Article widely circulated and published on 30 July 2015 by plus61j, Michael Easson reviews Labor resolution re Israel-Palestinians July 30, 2015 – +61J (plus61j.net.au)
Going into the ALP National Conference was a daunting prospect for friends of Israel.
The ultimate outcome at today’s Conference clinched an important victory – no unilateral recognition of Palestine, as Bob Carr has been campaigning for. Additionally, the resolution called for “a negotiated settlement” – direct negotiations, an important reference point.
There was no change to the ALP Platform which contains a very strong avowal of Israel’s right to live within secure and defendable borders and includes a tough position opposing Iranian expansion, terrorism and aim to destroy Israel.
What Matters is the Outcome
The rhetoric associated with the moving and seconding of the resolution was not tremendously encouraging (there was too much anti-Israel rhetoric), but it is the outcome that matters.
The resolution is friendly to Israel and supports the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to ultimately achieve independence.
The resolution clearly condemns the BDS campaign against Israel.
In stating that Labor will do all it can to advance and facilitate the peace process, this reflects long-standing sentiment.
An issue for an in-coming Labor government is the call to discuss with sensible countries the best way to support negotiations. Clearly a requirement here is to set fundamental conditions for recognition as required by the resolution.
Such conditions would include requiring Hamas to meet the Quartet conditions of recognising Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and accepting all international agreements. There would further need to be a unified and peaceful Palestinian entity that could enter into binding agreements. This means the Palestinians will need to conduct free and fair elections and end the launching of rocket and other attacks against Israel.
Israel’s right of self defence is clearly supported.
That’s why the resolution pays close attention. Whatever its flaws might be in the crafting, it is a resolution that Israel-friendly supporters can be pleased with.
The Potential to Go The Wrong Way
This article opened with a reference to the potential for a bad outcome. This was due to two main factors.
First, the unrelenting campaign by Bob Carr and his allies to drum up anti-Israel sentiment across the ALP: Four state branches supported resolutions that effectively called for unilateral recognition of Palestine.
Hundreds of resolutions from State Branches called for the same outcome.
Maria Vamvakinou MP from the Left sent a pro forma resolution, very hostile to Israel, to branches to send on to the National Conference.
Some Western Sydney MPs have abandoned Israel under pressure from ALP Branch members and because their convictions have changed.
Dr Saeb Erekat, the Chief Palestinian negotiator, wrote to all delegates requesting they support recognition.
So there was a concerted, intense effort against Israel prior to Conference.
Second, the rhetoric and actions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last March caused an earthquake amongst supporters, especially soft supporters of Israel across the western world. In short, we lost support.
Some erstwhile allies gave up on us. There has been a massive effort by true friends, by the Australia Israel Labor Dialogue, and others to shore up support.
One fact must be faced: So long as we have Bibi and some Israeli government Ministers talking wildly, supporters of Israel will be facing these struggles and no amount of copies of Start up Nation will fix the problem.
What was remarkable was the determination of friends of Israel, led by Mark Dreyfus, Michael Danby, Mike Kelly and others to hold the line, chip away at opposition and save the day. The [Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association] SDA and other unions were particularly supportive.
The Left negotiators, cajoled and criticised for unbalance in their draft resolution, made massive changes.
Going into Sunday morning it was still uncertain.
The Right stiffened its back during discussions and negotiations that caused Tony Burke to accept a consensus.
The Left modified their resolution with a major, unacceptable clause on recognition of Palestine.
Late on Sunday morning, a consensus was reached. Bill Shorten insisted on no unilateral recognition. The Left backed down.
We can live with the result. If you were starting all over again, this particular resolution would not be where you would exactly want to end up.
But the Carr forces failed in getting what they wanted.
There is a long – decades long – fight ahead to win the day on this matter. The forces against us are strong, organised, insistent.
We need to be supremely organised next time.
The Jewish community can do better in galvanising support, more targeted and nuanced messages that reach out to and win support in the ALP.
Abandoning the effort to engage with and maximise support in the ALP is not an option. It would be to surrender to our enemies in Australia’s alternative government. That can never be contemplated.
Amongst our opponents, particularly even amongst certain western Sydney MPs, we cannot give up. We need to educate them on this issue and seek to link them to the Zionist Union and others who very often share some similar perspectives. There might be one Israel we love and cherish, but there are many voices in Israel – and that pluralism and articulate diversity can be turned to our advantage.
Frankly I am relieved what looked inevitable, even a week ago, did not come to pass.
Carr and his allies hoped for a tricky resolution that would say if any more settlements, if the next round of peace talks fail, then the ALP would recognise Palestine. None of those words made it into the final resolution.
Wordsmithing, smart organisation and a rallying of support amongst the ALP Right across the country meant that our negotiators could with strength and resolution insist that our red lines not be crossed. Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley, and elements of the moderate Left were prepared to vote for us. We stared down the main threat. Let’s not forget the victory. Or think for one moment that the battle has not only just begun. In politics, there are no permanent outcomes. As the old saying goes, besting in the arguments is not enough. Winning takes organising.
Resolution passed by Australian Labor Party Conference on 26 July 2015
The Australian Labor Party Conference:
AFFIRMS Labor’s support for an enduring and just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders internationally recognised and agreed by the parties, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace and security within their own state.
DEPLORES the tragic conflict in Gaza and supports an end to rocket attacks by Hamas and the exercise of the maximum possible restraint by Israel in response to these attacks.
SUPPORTS a negotiated settlement between the parties to the conflict, based on international frameworks, laws and norms.
RECOGNISES in government Labor retained its commitment to two states for two peoples in the Middle East and specifically
1 Did not block enhanced Palestinian status in the General Assembly;
2 Restated the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory;
3 Opposed Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, recognising that a just, peaceful and enduring resolution will involve a territorial settlement based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps;
4 Held that the settlements are illegal under international law.
RECOGNISES that any resolution will be based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, a timeframe to end Israeli occupation, demilitarization of Palestinian territory, agreement on a solution to Palestinian refugee issues, and resolution of the issue of Jerusalem’s final status.
RECOGNISES that settlement building by Israel in the Occupied Territories that may undermine a two-state solution is a roadblock to peace.
Labor CALLS ON Israel to cease all such settlement expansion to support renewed negotiations toward peace.
REJECTS the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
CONDEMNS the comments of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the recent elections where he ruled out a Palestinian state and further condemns his appeals to race during the campaign.
RECOGNISES a lasting peace will require a future State of Palestine to recognise the right of Israel to exist and the State of Israel to recognise the right of Palestine to exist.
RECOGNISES the special circumstances of the Palestinian people, their desire for respect, and the achievement of their legitimate aspiration to live in independence in a state of their own. This is a cause Labor is committed to.
If however there is no progress in the next round of the peace process a future Labor government will discuss joining like minded nations who have already recognised Palestine and announcing the conditions and timelines for the Australian recognition of a Palestinian state, with the objective of contributing to peace and security in the Middle East.
I spent most of the conference thinking about and drafting ideas on the Middle East resolution, mainly for Mark Dreyfus QC, the former Attorney General, the chief interlocutor for a sensible position at the Conference. Together with Michael Danby, Henry Pinskier, Dean Shur, and others, Mary Easson and I discussed tactics, crafted and redrafted words – as did others on the other side(s) of the debate.
The article published here was written in the final session of Conference, after the debate on foreign policy matters. Therefore it was a fresh take on the events of the hour. Hopefully it read that way.
In the end, the resolution was not too bad – considerably better than what the UK Labour Party had adopted in 2014, for example. The Australian Labor resolution was almost a lot better, but for several last minute changes.
Tanya Plibersek, as Shadow Foreign Minister, a leftist keen on a defensible, balanced policy, had to consider fierce lobbying for a tougher, anti-Israel position by members of her ALP faction, as well as the ubiquitous, sleekly active Bob Carr behind the scenes.
So I was relieved at the final result, though disappointed we had not pulled off a greater victory.
Subsequently, addressed to Mary and I, a letter was sent:
3 August 2015
RE: ALP National Conference resolution on “Middle East peace process”
Dear Mary and Michael,
On behalf of the Australian Jewish community, please accept our sincerest thanks and appreciation for all your endeavours in connection with the Israel/Palestine resolution that was passed at the recent ALP National Conference in Melbourne.
The full implications of the resolution for the Labor Party, the Australian Jewish community and Australia-Israel relations are not likely to be clear for some time to come. However, what is absolutely clear is that without your tireless support and enduring commitment to preserving cross-party support for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, the resolution passed at National Conference would have been far less balanced and moderate than the version that was finally adopted. We know that you came close to achieving an outcome that would have been even more amenable to our community’s perspectives, and it is no discredit to your efforts that this was thwarted at the last moment. For all your work you have our deepest gratitude.
We are under no illusions about the challenges faced by friends of Israel in Australia. We recognise that some of these challenges are exacerbated by regrettable rhetoric from Israeli political figures in the context of Israel’s domestic politics and a genuine frustration at the failure of numerous peace initiatives over many years. Many people, without troubling themselves with the facts, reflexively hold Israel solely or predominantly responsible for these failures simply because they see Israel as the stronger party and the Palestinians as underdogs. These sympathies are played on by the co-ordinated and malicious campaign to demonise and defame Israel in every influential forum in this country, including our campuses, trade unions, churches and parliaments.
As the elected representative body of the Australian Jewish community, we will continue to make representations to our friends in Jerusalem as to the impact of the conflict on the Jewish diaspora and our unwavering desire to see the dream of two states for two peoples finally realised. This is the only basis upon which the right of self-determination of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples can be realised in accordance with international law and UN resolutions, and therefore the only basis for achieving a just and lasting peace.
At the same time, we will never relent in our determination to defend the legitimacy and honour of the State of Israel and the rights of the Jewish people, and will oppose any policy which will entrench the parties in inflexible and unbridgeable positions, including those which would undermine Israel’s security.
We are privileged to have your support in these matters of immense significance to the Australian Jewish community. You have our heartfelt gratitude.
With warmest regards,
Robert Goot SC AM
Peter Wertheim AM,
Executive Council of Australian Jewry Inc.
Something frameable! – as Mary said.
For peculiar reasons, Mary’s and my position on the Middle East appears pro-Israel. But that should not be mistaken for an anti-Palestinian position or anything one eyed – hardly an appropriate way of gaining perspective.
Sadly, much of the Left of the Labor Party are unsympathetic to Israel’s plight, the legitimate fears of potential Islamist terror and the wiping out of Israel by her enemies. Anti-semitism is on the rise everywhere. Democrats, reformers and moderates amongst them, in Palestine are besieged by madness. We need to forge relations with those good elements. Two peoples for two nations ought still be the over-riding goal with Israel and Palestine. Israel commits a lot of mistakes, there are some troubling trends in Israeli society, part of the far-right is an ugly manifestation. Jews debate about how much Zion is, should be, what needs to be done to be a light amongst the nations. There is a healthy debate on this. One “side” is not as good or as bad as the other, as if there is only one side.