Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

SMH editorial backs unhelpful course

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On August 9, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) published an editorial "Fence-sitting, but the wisest course", which advocated that Australia abstain on the UN General Assembly resolution that is expected to seek UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines.

The editorial was commenting on news that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd held different positions on the Palestinian UN bid. According to the Age's Daniel Flitton, Rudd wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that Australia abstain on the Palestinian UN resolution, while Gillard has declared strong support for Israel. The SMH editorial declared, "we believe Rudd's advice is the sound course".

Abstaining on the resolution is not a "sound course" but rather a counter-productive course. Australia should not merely abstain but should vote against the resolution in the interests of Middle East peace and a two-state solution. Unilateral acts by the Palestinians will not achieve either peace or statehood, but are likely to escalate the conflict.

The UN resolution has been a way for the Palestinian leadership to avoid negotiating with Israel. Anything less than a vote against the UN resolution would reward the Palestinians for pursuing a unilateral course rather than negotiate, and could encourage future unilateral acts.

Australia should not tolerate a UN resolution that violates international law and peace agreements. The proposed UN resolution violates Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1850, and Oslo II (1995), which established that ''neither side shall initiate or take any steps that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations.''

In addition, it could unravel the institutionalised legal and administrative framework that underpins existing Israeli-Palestinian relations, which include bilateral arrangements in over forty spheres of civilian activity and which serve as a basis for economic, legal, and security cooperation and might well precipitate new and violent confrontations.

Australia should send a clear message that it will not support a resolution that would give influence to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Australia. If UN unilateral recognition were to take place while Hamas is the ongoing authority in Gaza, in partnership with Fatah under a 'unity government', it would effectively constitute recognition of Hamas. Hamas continues to reject the basic requirements of the international community such as recognising Israel's right to exist, forswearing terrorism and accepting previous international agreements.

The SMH editorial writes that an affirmative UN vote "would signal a world impatient with the stubborn reluctance of the Israeli political right to accept this compromise in its quest for complete control of Jerusalem and more of the West Bank lands". However, this ignores repeated efforts for compromise by Israel including by its Likud Prime Minister Netanyahu who has already announced that he is willing to negotiate a "package" which specifies that the borders of the Palestinian state were to be based on 1967 lines with mutual land swaps, if the Palestinians drop the UN bid and give some ground on his demand to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Clear efforts at compromise should be welcomed by the international community, and used to encourage the Palestinians back to the negotiating table by stating that they will not support the UN resolution.

The SMH editorial also stands in contrast to a recent editorial in the New York Times (7/8), a paper which has been strongly critical of the policies of the current Netanyahu Government. Yet even the Times recognised that the unilateralist Palestinian course undermines the prospects of a negotiated settlement, which is the only viable path forward, stating:

"The Palestinians may instead ask the General Assembly to recognize them as a state or give them observer status as a state. Either would undoubtedly pass. But it would be in name only. After the initial exhilaration, Palestinians would be even more alienated, while extremists would try to exploit that disaffection. The best way, likely the only way, to head off this debacle is with the start of serious negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The two sides haven't even been in the same room together since September 2010."

Like the Times, the Herald should recognise that if the goal is to attain Palestinian statehood as quickly as possible, the only course for Australia and anyone else is to oppose the counter-productive and unilateralist UN move.

Sharyn Mittelman

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