Federal Politics

Moving towards a just solution

International opinion in the Israel-Palestine conflict appears to be shifting, including in Australia, ROBERT NEWTON writes

For those of us concerned about the continuing injustices suffered by the Palestinian people, including those living under Israeli occupation or blockade, the advent of Bob Carr as Australia's Foreign Minister has at least delivered us a leader in Australian diplomacy who knows the issues at the core of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and who wants to contribute to a just solution.

Carr's recent visit to Israel, Jordan and the Israeli occupied West Bank has helped re-establish Australia as an international player who can help our friends on all sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict push towards a just and lasting settlement. His recent representations to Israel about its incarceration of Palestinian children are to be applauded.

View Carr's blog on his trip (http://bobcarrblog.wordpress.com/), one can see that a major pre-occupation for him is the welfare of refugees in the Middle East.

Syrian refugees are currently a major focus of attention right now - and rightly so.

But Carr reminds us of the presence in Jordan alone of an estimated 450,000 Iraqi refugees and nearly 2 million Palestinian refugees.

Carr visited Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on August 6 and held talks with Palestinian leaders including President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Later he also held discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The message he says he seeks to impart is that there can be no peace without negotiations on a two-state solution with agreed national borders.

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The problem is that Carr's message is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Unless Israel stops the illegal construction of settlements in the West Bank there will be no resumption of negotiations which have been stalled since December 2010. It defies reality to think it reasonable that the Palestinians should agree to a resumption of talks while the other side continues to steal Palestinian land and embed itself even further in the territory where a future Palestinian state would be situated.

More than half a million Israeli passport holders now live in the occupied West Bank. Israel's settlements construction has continued unabated. Extremist settler violence has increased against local Palestinians in recent years. One is left wondering what exactly a two-state solution would look like. One also wonders if Carr or any of his advisers could actually conceptualise this, or has his message of a two-state solution just become a mantra without any practical meaning?

Western governments continue a policy of bland and limp admonishment of Israel for its behaviour towards the Palestinian people. This is ignored by Israel's leaders: why negotiate, when one can simply take what one wants? So the humiliating daily grind of life under a nasty military occupation continues for the Palestinians of the West Bank. And in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, Palestinians languish under an Israeli sea and land blockade that cripples collective economic activity, stifles individual human development, health, education and hope, and trashes human dignity. Yet another generation of Palestinians has been thrown on the scrap heap, victims of the world's failure to deal effectively with what should ultimately be a solvable problem.

But international opinion is slowly turning against Israel. The serving British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, recently made this point publicly, and observed that it was no longer the case that poor little Israel was the David against the Goliath, the combined might of a gang of hostile Arab states. Indeed, Israel has now become the Goliath - the neighbourhood bully whose actions are increasingly odious to the international community.

And interesting too is the growing concern amongst Jewish people around the world at Israel's behaviour. A leading Israeli dissident, Miko Peled (who visited Australia last year) has expressed his opposition to Israel's acquired status as an imperial power through the illegal acquisition of land beyond its recognised borders. He has many supporters. Within Israel groups such as Breaking the Silence, and B'Tselem courageously speak out against the trampling of Palestinian human rights in the West Bank and Gaza.

Next month Palestinian advocacy groups in Australia will be hosting a visit here by Professor Ilan Pappe, a renowned dissident Israeli academic now living in Britain. Pappe is one of several distinguished articulate and passionate Israelis prepared to speak out against Israel's policies towards its neighbours. He, like others, has seen through Israel's ploy of professing a desire for peace while relentlessly continuing to colonise the West Bank.

And in Australia a growing diversity of Jewish groups expressing a range of views from concern about Israeli policies to outright opposition, now challenges the once unassailable conservative leadership of the Jewish Diaspora in this country.

This week the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network will be renewing its campaign of lobbying federal politicians in Canberra. It will be joined by representatives of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society who share with APAN a strong wish to work for a just and lasting end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Also joining the APAN/AJDS campaign are two Israeli activists, Micha Kurz, a veteran of the Israeli military and co-founder of Breaking the Silence, and Sahar Vardi, who refused to serve as a conscript in the Israeli military, and has worked for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Unfortunately, Carr's blogs about his Middle East visit reveal a major flaw in his approach to the conflict. He is ignoring the strong body of international and Israeli Jewish opinion that recognises that Israel's policies are misguided, morally wrong, and ultimately self-defeating.

A more robust approach towards Israel by its ''friends'' in the West is needed - an approach that recognises that people like Miko Peled, Ilan Pappe, Micha Kurz and Sahar Vardi, are not a few lone voices of the extreme left, but voices of decency capable of nurturing change within Israel that will bring that country back from the dangers of extremism and religious totalitarianism.

Robert Newton is vice-president of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network