By Kishor Napier-Raman
Labor is likely to reaffirm its support for recognising Palestinian statehood at tomorrow’s virtual national conference, despite a push from a handful of dissenters on the party’s right flank.
Israel (the default position in Australian foreign policy), but has increasingly softened on the question of recognising Palestine as a state and it now has broad rank-and-file support.
According to reports in The Australian, that position could be threatened by a motion at this week’s conference. But observers say it is unlikely to get up.
The Labor position
At its national conference in 2018, months before an election it expected to win, Labor put out its strongest statement of support for recognising Palestine as a state.
The party passed a resolution which called “on the next Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state”, and said it was as an “important priority” for the next Labor government.
Despite no evidence Labor under Anthony Albanese would walk that back, the bit about recognising Palestine disappeared from the draft policy platform for this week’s conference.
Still, that 2018 support is likely to be reaffirmed. Despite a shrill editorial in The Australian, Labor appears fairly settled on the issue.
“The policy that will be endorsed will be the existing policy adopted at the December 2018 national conference unanimously,” former NSW premier and Gillard-era foreign minister Bob Carr told Crikey.
Carr also noted Palestinian recognition had broad rank-and-file support, with five out of six state branches passing a similar resolution.
But that support for Palestinian recognition could face a stress test. A motion backed by David Bliss — a delegate from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association who is also shadow minister Emma McBride’s chief of staff — aims to weaken the ALP’s position.
The rebel motion will bind the next Labor government to passing 10 conditions before recognising Palestine as a state, including free and fair elections in Gaza and the West Bank, and commitment to international human rights principles.
That attempt to undermine what seems to be broad consensus within the party has been slammed as “misguided” by Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) vice-president Nasser Mashni.
“The amendment is nonsensical. It would place conditions on recognising Palestine that many countries we already recognise would not pass — including the USA and Israel.”
Carr suggests, given the party’s past substantial support for recognising Palestine, the motion is unlikely to get support. While it’s backed by Bliss, it doesn’t seem to have the push from senior Shoppies figures. It’s also being seconded by former MP Michael Danby, famously one of the party’s staunchest supporters of Israel.
“This amendment is just a way for a former parliamentarian known to be one-eyed in his support for Israel and a political staffer to peddle their minority views,” Mashni said.
What it means for Labor
Attempts to undermine the party’s position on Palestine may be less of a stoush, and more a tantrum from an increasingly isolated fringe.
Danby in particular has bordered on hysteria when discussing the motion, arguing it will make Labor unelectable, and a sign the party is being run by “pro-Beijing figure Bob Carr and his new Socialist Left allies”. Because nothing riles up suburban punters like arcane foreign policy issues.
But in reality, while advanced on the statehood issue, Labor’s position is relatively cautious. The current opposition is a long way from its British counterpart under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, a firm supporter of Palestine whose leadership was dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Labor’s 2018 position on Palestine was the result of years of pressure from people like Carr and elder statesmen like Bob Hawke, which slowly dissolved fairly rusted-on support for Israel. If Labor is elected and recognises Palestine as a state, it would be one of the only Western countries to do so. And it’s a position that distances it from the Morrison government — which is more pro-Israel than any in recent history.
Still, the motion is fairly weak. And at the end of the day, it’s non-binding. Despite Albanese’s historic support for Palestine (he founded Parliamentary Friends of Palestine), there’s plenty that pro-Israel voices like about him.
And he’s also got APAN onside. Mashni says the party is “moving towards a policy that considers the rights and needs of Palestinians and Israelis equally”.
Labor’s modest evolution on Palestine will be met with a lot of guff about undermining a two-state solution. But at the end of the day, modest is what it is.