For over a decade, the Labor Party has debated its positioning on Israel and Palestine.
Labor's support for Israel's existence as a Jewish state within secure and recognised borders is clear. But this is now profoundly linked to the evolution of Palestine and fidelity to the "two-state" solution to the conflict. The most recent iteration of Labor policy calls for the next Labor government to formally recognise Palestine as a state. This is bitterly opposed by many supporters of Israel here. The debate inside the party has been very divisive, reflecting the complexity of the conflict in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The explosive violence between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, and the demonstrations and their suppression across Jerusalem, the West Bank and, for the first time in years, in Israeli cities and towns, has similarly ignited a new level of debate and division in the Democratic Party in the United States.
Unconditional support for Israel's right to defend itself - with little if any mention of the terrible loss of life and destruction inflicted, especially in Gaza - is not tenable.
Having the ceasefire in place between Israel and Gaza will hardly end the debate over Israel inside the progressive political parties here and in America.
These two parties are not yet at breaking point over Israel. But it may be coming.
The rifts among Democrats flow from two sources. As the Muslim-American population has grown, Muslim communities are increasingly coming into their own in political representation in Congress, such as in Minnesota and Michigan, where President Biden was greeted by a large pro-Palestine rally. Those members of Congress are representing their constituencies on these issues. This tracks the Jewish-American experience, and the emergence of Jewish political leaders in New York, Florida and California in the '50s, '60s and '70s. This is how pluralism and democracy work.
Concurrently, the Democratic Party has moved further to the left, to advance the vision of President Obama for a more just society and economic equity and to repudiate the white-supremacist nativism and nationalism championed by Donald Trump. While Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in 2016 to win the nomination for president, and Joe Biden defeated Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in 2020, Biden is governing closer to their ideals.
With this comes a strong commitment to racial justice to rectify the imbalance of force by the state against minorities across the country that reflects, as President Biden has said, "systemic racism."
In 1947, it was Labor's H. V. "Doc" Evatt who, as president of the United Nations General Assembly, guided the partition of British Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. In 1948, the first country to recognise Israel's independence was the United States, as declared by President Harry Truman, a Democrat. Evatt and Truman were the key midwives at Israel's birth.
These historical pillars are being corroded by the all-but-intractable hostility between Israelis and Palestinians. That peace is elusive is an understatement. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for pursuing it; PLO chairman Yasir Arafat never had the courage to conclude it. Israel and several Arab nations - Egypt, Jordan and, under Trump, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco - have made peace. But there is no peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
For Israelis and Palestinians, in a vacuum of comity there is extremism.
The "winners" so far are Prime Minister Netanyahu and Hamas. Netanyahu because under the rocket attacks his uncompromising commitment to Israel's security and the use of massive force could well help him form a government and continue in office. Hamas, because through its uncompromising rejection of the Jewish state it gains clout against the more moderate Palestinian Authority.
These polarities are likely to widen and deepen, further testing the Democrats and Labor.
If, in the wake of this war and all the fissures it has again exposed, the Israeli government decides to double down in the West Bank by annexing land for more Israeli settlements, that would immediately be read to mean the end of the "two-state" solution for Israel and Palestine.
All hell would break loose.
In domestic political terms here and in America, something fundamental in Israel's interests would be broken. Israel is more secure politically in the US and Australia when it enjoys bipartisan support. Were Israel to make the dream of Truman and Evatt moot, the effect would go far beyond Labor and the Democrats.
Democracies around the world, including Australia, where the Morrison government is firmly committed to a two-state solution, would become alienated from the one true democracy in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords could collapse.
In the US, the Republicans would not agonise. There is no equivocation from Republicans on Gaza. Trump fully backed Netanyahu on sovereignty issues such as Jerusalem, and on Iran's nuclear program, in part to wedge Democrats over the Jewish vote. This utterly failed, because Jewish Americans vote as much on social issues as Israel. They are not in lockstep with right-wing governments in the US or in Israel. Democrats consistently command two-thirds or more of the Jewish vote.
If Israel annexes land in the West Bank, and the "two-state" goal truly dies, progressive support for Israel in both countries will crater with the end of that dream. And new nightmares will begin.
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