Ticking Boxes: The ALP's Clayton's Support For Palestine

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On Sunday, the ALP National Conference adopted a resolution on the question of Palestine. The final result was a compromise, after Labor “Left” withdrew its preferred motion.

Crikey’s Sally Whyte observed the two motions “on first look” look “very similar”, and the Guardian’s live blog found minor differences in the motions and amendments. The Guardian, however, found these differences significant enough to be impressed by what Katharine Murphy identified as a “pretty elegant compromise”.

She noted that the final version had “subtle changes in wording” from the one MP Tony Burke from Labor Right had originally proposed.

Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr was reportedly one of the architects of the NSW Labor Right’s proposed position. Apparently still influential in Labor, he’s considered by some to be pro-Palestinian, and is clearly interested in pushing Australian foreign policy away from the long-standing bipartisan policy of unconditional support for almost everything Israel does.

Murphy observed that whilst Labor Left used to be the bastion of sympathy for the Palestinians, there has been a “sea change in thinking in elements of the party’s right faction over the past few years, particularly in Sydney.”

So what are the results of NSW’s Labor Right mostly getting its way on a Palestine resolution? The resolution is featured in the Guardian and Crikey, with very minor differences. I have relied on the Crikey version (printed at the bottom of this article) for the analysis below.

The crucial paragraph is this one, which envisaged the shape of the two-state solution supported by the ALP: “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.”

Compare that to a standard formulation by the United Nations General Assembly, which endorses a two-state solution every year, usually by a margin of around 150-4 in favour. This is from 2014:

“20. Reaffirms its commitment, in accordance with international law, to the two-State solution of Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders, based on the pre-1967 borders;

21. Stresses the need for:
(a) The withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem;

(b) The realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination and the right to their independent State;

22. Also stresses the need for a just resolution of the problem of Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948;”

148 countries voted in favour of it, 6 voted against (United States, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau), and 8 abstained. Australia was one of the abstentions.

So on the one hand, there’s the international consensus, rejected by Israel, the US, and client states (Australia often joins in, but last year only abstained). Does the ALP support the international consensus on resolving the conflict? No.

Firstly, rather than endorsing the need for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories, the ALP says it will be merely “based” on the 1967 borders, with “agreed land swaps”. Not minor land swaps, or land swaps of equal value. This subtly legitimises Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, such as the settlement blocs, and is a significant concession.

The “timeframe” to end the Israeli occupation is not actually stated. So if the occupation ends in 500 years, that is also a timeframe, and so without qualification, is essentially meaningless.

It can be used to endorse “negotiations” and peace processes until the end of time. The motion supports the “demilitarisation of Palestinian territory”, which is a flagrant adoption of Likud’s position that the Palestinians must be disarmed, and forced into reliance on the tender mercies of the Israeli army, which I suppose they are supposed to trust.

Note also that this is not part of the international consensus. It is yet another move from the ALP’s supposedly pro-Palestinian faction away from the international community, towards the position of Likud.

Furthermore, whilst the UN supports a “just resolution” of the Palestinian refugee question, in conformity with international law (the UN General Assembly Resolution 194), the ALP simply favours an “agreement on a solution to Palestinian refugee issues”, without even identifying what Palestinian refugee issues are.

It has no grounding in international law, no concern for justice, and essentially gives carte blanche to Israeli rejectionism of any compromise on the issue.

As for Jerusalem, whilst virtually the entire world supports Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem as occupied territory, the ALP simply supports “resolution of the issue of Jerusalem's final status.” Again, no expectation that Israel has to withdraw, or conform to international law.

It is therefore interesting to note that whilst the Coalition didn’t vote for the UN General Assembly resolution quoted above, the ALP’s supposedly pro-Palestinian shift isn’t consistent with it either.

This is just a microcosm of the problems of the resolution, which can be found in almost every paragraph of the resolution.

Consider how it begins: the ALP supports a two state solution, “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.”

So Israel has rights, whilst the Palestinians only have legitimate aspirations.

The next paragraph “deplores the tragic conflict in Gaza” – note that it doesn’t identify cause or allocate blame. It “supports an end to rocket attacks by Hamas” – which may invite the wrath of Australian Likudniks, who will want stronger language condemning the rockets.

It then supports Israel exercising “maximum possible restraint… in response to these attacks”.

This adopts the view that Israel is the victim and defends itself against Gaza, and implicitly concedes Israel the right to use force against Gaza. No such right is accorded to the Palestinians, in Gaza or elsewhere.

Note also that the resolution is shamefully silent on the blockade on Gaza.

There’s a paragraph purporting to support a negotiated settlement “based on international frameworks, laws and norms”, which is a good thing. However, it doesn’t identify what these are, and in the broader context is plainly intended as an afterthought, not to be taken too seriously.

The next paragraph reviews Labor’s record in government. It happily recalls stating that the “West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory”. The problem with this is that it doesn’t identify Gaza as occupied territory, and given the framework the ALP has adopted for supporting an amended version of a two-state agreement, this doesn’t amount to much.

It recalls “Opposing Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land”, and that they are “illegal under international law”. Which is quite mild, when you consider that the US theoretically also opposes settlements. However, the US has downgraded its symbolic rhetorical opposition to a greater extent, so the ALP’s position is a positive step, though it is not clear if this will actually be embraced as a rhetorical position when it is next elected.

The resolution “recognises” that “settlement building… may undermine a two-state solution” and “is a roadblock to peace”. Which doesn’t note that it steals Palestinian land: like the rest of the resolution, it doesn’t recognise Palestinians as having any rights.

However, it is still a welcome development. It calls on Israel to “cease all such settlement expansion”, which is also a mild but positive step. It then “rejects” BDS, to show how supportive of the Israeli government the ALP still is.

I suspect to throw scraps to activists, there’s a paragraph which “condemns” the comments of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in opposing a Palestinian state, and “further condemns his appeals to race during the election”.

It’s not clear why this is in the resolution – given all the recent affairs it doesn’t comment on, this is presumably just a way of showing activists that they recognise that a two-state agreement isn’t exactly on the cards at this point in time. Which makes it hard to square with the rest of the resolution, except for the final paragraph, which is based on the theory that the two parties, without prompting, will agree on a resolution of the conflict.

But this is not meant to be a coherent strategy, just a compromise, pushing the ALP slightly to the left.

The next paragraph recognises that a “lasting peace” will require Palestine to “recognise the right of Israel to exist”, and for Israel to “recognise the right of Palestine to exist”.

This offers a specious symmetry, but in effect simply adopts the official line of Likud again. No other conflict in the world requires this kind of recognition.

Private ideological beliefs aren’t relevant to international peace and compromise. When the US and USSR had the Cold War, neither had to recognise the right of socialist or capitalist governments to exist. Both considered their systems superior, and hoped for their ultimate triumph, but to prevent war, had to accept that the other was going to continue existing for now.

The international consensus requires no such condition, but the ALP apparently has adopted Israel’s view that peace can’t come until the Palestinians become Zionists and support Israel’s right to dispossess them.

Turning to symbolic flattery over concrete action, the penultimate paragraph “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.”

Note again that even now, the Palestinians don’t have any rights the ALP might support. Unlike Israel, they just have hopes and dreams that Labor thinks it can validate by calling them legitimate. Which makes them worth sympathising with, but no more. Certainly nothing as concrete as the right of Israel to exist and live in peace and security.

Readers can judge for themselves how committed the ALP is to this tenderly and meekly identified cause.

The final paragraph offers a path for what will happen if there is “no progress in the next round of the peace process”. We don’t even know if or when there will be a “next round”, so this is yet another meaningless and purely symbolic scrap for the desperate.

I’m sure some will identify this is as a pro-Palestinian shift, a betrayal of Israel and so on. I would put it in this context.

In recent years, Israel has committed a series of massacres in Gaza, which are hard to defend. Anyone with unwarped minds who sees the death tolls, or comparative destruction, will be hard-pressed to conclude that Israel is the victim that needs our support.

Public opinion is shifting against Israel. During the massacre last year, an impressive array of ALP and Greens MPs and Senators signed a letter condemning Israel’s attack. Besides the shift in public opinion, there are many Muslims in the marginal seats in Sydney’s west, and that worries the ALP.

Thus, the party has come under pressure to differentiate itself from the Coalition, by adopting a policy which is more supportive of the Palestinians.

This resolution seems to be the result. It’s pitiful, and deserves contempt. The fact that it happened, however, is an interesting development. No one should expect the ALP to come up with decency on its own.

Whether it can be compelled to adopt a stronger position is another question. One that will probably be making Stalinist Zionists in Australia pretty nervous.

The resolution

"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

Did not block enhanced Palestinian status in the General Assembly;

Restated the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory;

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;

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."

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