By George Browning
Among the many issues the ALP will be considering at its 47th national conference this weekend, the recognition of Palestinian statehood looms large on the agenda.
Writing in The Australian yesterday, Labor senator Joe Bullock argued passionately against recognition. “What incentives,” he asked, “would exist for the Palestinian leadership to renounce terrorism, cease attacks on Israel and negotiate a settled, comprehensive peace if they are recognised as a state without being required to do any of these things?”
An excellent question that I will endeavour to answer with the seriousness it deserves.
In his widely cited work on international conflict resolution, I. William Zartman of Johns Hopkins University identifies two key conditions for successful conflict resolution. The first is that a deadlock exists that is difficult, undesirable and painful to both parties. The second is that both sides must share a belief that there is a peaceful way out of the conflict.
Applying this framework to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is clear neither of these conditions exists.
In 1992, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir said his strategy for peace negotiations was to drag them out to buy time to double the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
Since then, throughout a succession of peace negotiations, the number of Israeli settlers has grown from 246,400 to 547,000. The settler population is growing at 4.4 per cent a year.
Far from being painful to the Israeli government, the situation is one in which it believes that time is on its side. Conversely, the Palestinians can see no way out of a situation in which Israel is dragging out peace negotiations while expanding the settlements that are destroying the territorial basis on which they hope to build a Palestinian state.
Thus, rather than encouraging Palestinian moderation, peace negotiations have fuelled the catastrophic rise of the militant Hamas party, which cites the settlements’ expansion as proof that the international community is not serious when it expresses support for Palestinian statehood and that Palestinians can win their freedom only through armed struggle.
It is perhaps superfluous to cite Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, but it is worth noting that since the beginning of the Oslo peace process, the conflicts in South Africa, Bosnia and Northern Ireland have all been brought to peaceful conclusions, while in Israel-Palestine the conflict has not only grown more violent but has given rise to a situation whereby the region contains two populations living side by side in a situation similar to that of apartheid South Africa or the southern US during the Jim Crow era.
On April 7, Israeli soldiers ordered 200 Palestinians out of the natural swimming pool of Birkat al-Karmil so that a party of settlers could take it over for their exclusive use. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, the incident is an example of how “almost any desire expressed by settlers, however capricious, is automatically facilitated at the expense of the Palestinian population”.
The collapse of John Kerry’s peace initiative and Benjamin Netanyahu’s sweeping election victory on a platform of continued settlement expansion, explicit opposition to Palestinian statehood and naked appeals to anti-Arab racism have prompted a long-overdue reconsideration of Israel-Palestine policy throughout the Western world. In October, Ed Miliband, the first Jewish leader of the British Labour Party, led his party in a successful parliamentary motion that called on the government to recognise the state of Palestine. In November, Sweden became the first European country to recognise the state of Palestine. In May, the Vatican followed suit. In the months following, the parliaments of France, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the EU all passed resolutions calling for the recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Though it would certainly provoke a furious reaction by what former foreign minister Bob Carr refers to as Australia’s “Likud-aligned” Israel lobby, Labor’s recognition of Palestine, by increasing the diplomatic cost of the occupation, would help to reverse a 48-year process that is threatening Israel’s survival as a Jewish state.
In 1983, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi, warned that Israel’s continued colonisation of Palestinian territories would lead inevitably to its transformation into an Arab-Jewish state and the consequent “Belfastisation” of the country. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the Israeli military, the population of “Greater Israel” consists of 6.2 million Jews ruling over an equal number of Palestinians.
Recognising Palestinian statehood would not only give the Palestinians some hope that their 67-year nightmare of colonisation and displacement can be peacefully ended but also encourage Israel to free itself from an occupation that is destroying its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
Morally, politically and strategically, the case for Palestinian recognition is irrefutable. The only question that remains is whether Labor will seize this opportunity to position itself on the right side of history or continue to act as an enabler of Palestinian dispossession and Israel’s self-destruction.
George Browning is the former Anglican bishop of Canberra and president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.