Government and governance, International relations | Australia, The World

24 February 2017

Australia’s policy to pursue closer economic ties with Israel, particularly in the fields of water and cyber security, is perverse as advances in both fields have been at the expense of Palestinians, George Browning writes.

The Malcolm Turnbull and Benjamin Netanyahu press conference, held on the first day of the historic visit to Australia of Israel’s Prime Minister, revealed a great deal about the future Palestinians can expect from the Israeli government and the support this action will receive from the Australian government. The question Australians need to press upon our government is why? Why are we so supportive of an outcome which is clearly intended to be imposed, not negotiated?

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was quite right to say in his statement in response to Netanyahu’s dismissive criticism of him and Bob Hawke, “Netanyahu has undermined the possibility of a two-state solution.”

What Netanyahu made clear in his press conference was that he would not accept a ‘one-state’ solution either. He stated that he did not want to embrace several million Palestinians in an enlarged Israel. The insistence that Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish State, a demand that had not been made until 2007, has this implication.

So what is the future for Palestinians? It appears that in the mind of Netanyahu and the aggressive settler movement there are two possibilities. Either Palestinians must accept voluntary migration – primarily to Jordan – or Palestine will be reduced to an enclosed and gated community of Bantustans, presumably around areas of current population concentration including Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron.

Palestinians are not going to be allowed their own autonomous state, but they are not going to be allowed to be part of Israel either.

On Wednesday Netanyahu reiterated what he had said the previous week in an interview with MSNBC’s Greta van Susteren that not only must Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish State, they must also accept that Israel will retain security control of the area west of the Jordan river – in other words, that Israel’s occupation must continue forever.

According to the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), apartheid is defined as inhumane acts “committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. ‘Apartheid’ is a very serious accusation because of its implications in the ICC, but it is very difficult to see how the intensifying situation for Palestinians can otherwise be described. Two years ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on occupied Palestine, Richard Faulk, said it had the legally unacceptable characteristics of “colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.

Malcolm Turnbull and his government’s internationally isolated criticism of the UN on settlements has received some surprising support, with some arguing that Australia has much to gain from closer cooperative ties with Israel. Water and cyber technology have been cited as two examples of how much Australia has to gain from the relationship.

It is unfortunate that these two examples are used, for both are developed at the expense of Palestinians.

Israel’s settlements are a weapon, the purpose of which is to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution by destroying the territorial basis of Palestinian statehood. To connect the settlers to Israel, the government has built a web of Israeli-only ‘bypass roads’ throughout the West Bank. To supply them with water it diverts water from Palestinian communities.

According to Amnesty International, the daily allocation for Jewish settlers in the West Bank is 300 litres. Palestinians are forced to survive on as little as 20 litres a day. In addition, according to the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, 5.5mcm of untreated settlement wastewater is dumped into Palestinian valleys and streams every year.

How can Australia morally take advantage of Israeli water technology when it is built upon Palestinian disadvantage and Australia’s unequivocal support for Israel’s illegal settlement activity?

Similarly, Israel’s unquestionably superior cyber and security technology should enable the safe and rapid movement of Palestinians from the West Bank to Israel for work and vice versa. It should enable Palestinians in their territory to move easily to visit relatives, shops, and hospitals. Instead, Palestinians are subject to frustration and humiliation every time they try to leave home. Palestinian children refuse to go to school because of harassment from the settlers. In order to counter this harassment, volunteers from the global ecumenical accompaniment program accompany children to school, their only protection being a camera. Israeli technology enables Israeli authorities to identify a child who has thrown a stone at an armoured vehicle, arrest and imprison them. Palestinians are quite capable of running their own Internet provider, but Israel does not allow this. If Australia is to partner with Israel in cyber technology, it must do so cognisant of the fact that this technology is used as a weapon for suppression of the Palestinian people.

Australia’s current policy in relation to the Palestine/Israel conflict is bi-partisan support for a two-state solution. In practical terms, there is little difference in policy between the two major parties. Both have senior politicians who express unequivocal support for Israel, often for very different reasons.

The support for Palestinian Statehood recently expressed by Bob Hawke, Bob Carr, Kevin Rudd and Gareth Evans is not as strongly shared within the parliamentary wing of the party, as illustrated by recent comments from Penny Wong and Bill Shorten. Netanyahu’s rejoinder to these retired politicians was “what sort of state do you have in mind?” The question is misplaced. The call for recognition of Palestine is a call for it to be taken seriously, the very thing that Netanyahu will not do.

Recent polls indicate that significant numbers, probably the majority of Palestinians would be very happy to live in one state, a state in which rights, privileges, and opportunities are the same for all regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. It is clear that Netanyahu and his government will never allow such a state. Netanyahu maintains that the blockage to peace is the ideological intransigence of the Palestinian Authority. This is not the case. The blockage is the ideological intransigence of Israel and its government.

Far from fostering a two-state solution Australia is doing the opposite. By siding with Israel against the international community on the issue of settlements and seeking to expand economic cooperation at a time that Israel is deepening its Occupation, the Turnbull government is making Australia a partner in the maintenance of the last apartheid regime in the Western world.

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One Response

  1. Bartholomew O'Donovan says:

    Bishop George, I am with you all the way. How sad it is to see our great and inclusive nation deal with Israeli extremists for financial and political gain and even worse sacrificing the lives and human rights of the Palestinians who are human beings too just so Prime Minister can be the leader of the Liberal party of Australia and hostage to its loony right wing fringe. Next we will see the coalition expanded to include the Pauline Hanson Party. Western Australian Liberals have already done this in all but name. If their experiment works we will see it rolled out by the Liberals nation wide. Time all good people stood taller and made Australia the good place it is destined to be among the nations of the world.

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