Israel/Palestine and the view from Australia

An Australian-born son of Palestinian refugees in Melbourne has said he “can’t understand why the Australian government wouldn’t support the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN”.

Moammar Mashni, co-founder and manager of Australians for Palestine, said the Labor Party’s national platform supported a two-state solution.

“As the democratically elected government of this country … when it becomes relevant for them to act on this particular tenet of their platform they do a 180 degree turn and say ‘no, the two sides have to figure it out for themselves,’” he said.

As the United Nations Security Council debates Mahmoud Abbas’ application for Palestinian statehood in New York, the Australian government is unsure how it will vote if the issue is presented to the General Assembly.

All sources the Naked Pun contacted said it was likely the Palestinians would bring their application to the General Assembly after the United States vetoed the application in the Security Council, as it vowed to do.

Australia had a vote in the General Assembly, which could make the Palestinians an “unofficial non-member state,” but couldn’t grant full statehood.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Julia Gillard said “the government has consistently advocated a negotiated two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with a secure Israel”.

However, the Prime Minister recently alluded to the government’s position in an opinion piece for the Australian.

“Ultimately … the only durable basis for resolution of this conflict is negotiation,” she said.

Mr Mashni was disappointed by the government’s stance.

“They’ve tried (negotiation) for the best part of 20 years now,” he said.

“What’s been the result?”

Dr. Tzvi Fleischer, editor of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC) Australia/Israel Review said the Palestinian bid for statehood wasn’t a solution, and wanted both sides to restart negotiations.

“We think the Palestinian bid is a distraction at best and at worst it’s destructive, and therefore anyone who wants a two-state solution should be opposed,” he said.

“The only way to a Palestinian state is through negotiations, recognition and mutual concessions.”

Bishara Costandi, a management committee member of Sydney’s Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, said statehood was the final product, not the first step in the peace process.

“There’s a stream of rights that the Palestinians need to have recognised,” he said.

“(The two-state solution) was based on the following: The right of return, self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“So statehood was the culmination, the end result, based on the right of return and self-determination,” he said.

Mr Costandi and his family were expelled to Lebanon from their home in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, to make room for an immigrant Jewish family a few years after the state of Israel was established in 1948.

He said Australia was duty bound to support the Palestinians in their bid for statehood because “it was Australia that was leading the call for the partition of Palestine in 1947”.

Mr Costandi said the United Nations was the right place to solve the conflict.

“This problem was created by the world community, through the United Nations … so the proper place for the solution to take place is the United Nations,” he said.

Dr Fleischer said the Australian government should play a role in the peace process “by encouraging the Palestinians to come back to the negotiations and make a deal that will involve all the compromises that are needed”.

“I think most Australian politicians understand that,” he said.

The Age newspaper reported on September 21 that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has urged Prime Minister Julia Gillard to abstain from voting if the Palestinians apply to the General Assembly.

The Prime Minister apparently remained committed to siding with the U.S. and Israel and voting against the resolution, said the Age.

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julia Bishop said in a media release that the Palestinian statehood bid “has the potential to undermine future peace talks and a negotiated two-state solution” and urged the government to oppose the bid.

However, when contacted Ms Bishop declined to comment on how the Palestinian statehood bid would “undermine future peace talks and a negotiated two state solution”.

Peter Slezak, co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, said although Mr Rudd doesn’t want to vote against the statehood bid, “he’s not doing it for the right reasons”.

Mr Slezak and Moammar Mashni both said that Australia’s main motivation to abstain was its hopes to gain a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.

“My reading of it was that Rudd wants to curry favour with the Arab countries in the UN because they want a position on the Security Council and we need their support,” said Mr Slezak.

“I don’t think (Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd) is abstaining because of the Palestinian cause … he’s not doing it for the right reasons.

“We should stand up and vote with principles for a change instead of following the United States … and stop being on the wrong side all the time.”

Mr Slezak, whose parents survived the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, said Australia’s abstaining would make Australia’s Jewish community “hysterical”.

“They’d go crazy because we’d be ‘letting Israel down’ … any sign that we’re not going along with the most militant, aggressive policies, they take it as a sign that we’re betraying Israel.”

The Israeli and Lebanese embassies in Canberra declined to comment, as did the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Zionist Council of Victoria and Albert Dadon from the Jewish Community Council of Australia.

*         *         *         *

Postscript:

The Lebanese Embassy in Canberra did eventually get back to me, after my deadline. They would only talk to me by email so I’ve included the entire exchange here:

How has the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis since 1948 affected Lebanon, specifically in regards to the 1948 ‘Nakba’, the 1978 and 1982 Israeli occupations of Lebanese territory and the activities of the PLO?
– “The problem of the Palestinian refugees – there are 300,000+ in Lebanon”

What kind of economic, political and social ties does Lebanon have with Australia?
– The embassy, for some reason, decided to print out my email and hand-write their answers next to my questions and mail them to me. They also included a print out from the DFAT website which I’d already seen and an outdated analysis by Augustus Richard Norton called “Lebanon’s Malaise” that, curiously, is slightly critical of Hezbollah, which currently controls the government. I’m not sure why they didn’t just email me this stuff so I could’ve included it in the story.

How does the Lebanese government feel about the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations? As a temporary member of the Security Council, how will Lebanon vote in regards to this issue?
– “The vote was in favour of Palestinian statehood.”

Is the Lebanese government talking to Australian officials about the possibility of a vote on ‘observer status’ in the UN General Assembly?
– (left blank)

If it does come to a vote at the General Assembly, how does the Lebanese government think Australia should vote on this issue? Why?
– “-EVEN HANDED-“

What would Lebanon stand to gain from Palestinian statehood?
-“To solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees”

Is the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees inside Lebanon being pursued by the Lebanese government?
– “Yes.”

If so, isn’t this unrealistic? The Israeli government has repeatedly stated that there will be no ‘right of return’.
– “The resolutions of the UN will decide, specifically UNSCR 194

What are the Lebanese government’s conditions for a peace agreement with Israel?
– “Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 and the Beirut Arab Summit of 2002.”\

Would the prospects for a Lebanon – Israel peace treaty be helped by the establishment of a Palestinian state?
– “It depends on the clauses of the treaty”

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