The NSW ALP conference is meeting again this weekend and among many issues, it will deliberate on its attitude to Israel, Palestinian aspirations, and peace.
Any resolution passed this weekend will not bind the Federal parliamentary party, but it is a harbinger for the next national ALP conference and the policy of the ALP when it next assumes government.
Recent years have seen an increased tempo in recognising Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
What is the NSW ALP conference being asked to adopt?
The process of ALP foreign policy formulation in NSW is managed by the Australia and the World Policy Committee which, after receiving suggestions from various party organs, recommend a principal resolution while commending its support or otherwise on each proposal.
The principal conference recommendation is that the conference:
- Notes previous resolutions on Israel/Palestine carried at the 2015 ALP National Conference and the 2016 NSW Labor Annual Conference; and
- Urges the next Labor government to recognise Palestine.
The common feature of this resolution, a recent resolution by the South Australian Parliament and the forthcoming Queensland resolution is the increasing articulation for a future ALP Government to recognise a Palestinian state.
Why the changes in ALP’s attitude? What are the drivers for change? Is it the ALP that has changed or is it Israel that has changed?
Has the ALP ‘abandoned’ Israel?
Has the once ‘loyal’ ALP abandoned Israel? Has Bob Carr, so often accused of being ‘obsessive’ about this cause, finally succeeded in convincing his colleagues? Has the NSW ALP succumbed to being ‘left wing’? Or has Israel, ironically, been the one which has changed?
It should be clear, this is not a Left versus Right tussle in the ALP. The left has long supported the recognition of a Palestinian state. For several years this debate has been an arm wrestle within the right wing of the NSW ALP.
Neither is it a matter fought over whether Palestinians meet the necessary legal conditions of a state. Nor is it a debate about the chronic resort to violence by Palestinian individuals and groups, a choice that is as repugnant as it is self-defeating.
The debate is over the moral and political route Australia should take in what has become an intractable conflict.
Israeli- Palestinian conflict – a new reality
Historically the decision lay in favour of Israel as being worthy of wholehearted support in its narrative of seeking peace, and security, with its Palestinian neighbours.
What has changed? Or more accurately, what changed sufficiently to prompt the broad acceptance of a counter narrative that includes Palestinian aspirations for peace, security and statehood?
Two things can be identified immediately – the settlements, and the Netanyahu government.
The key to Israel’s credibility has been its commitment to the temporary nature of the settlement project, a small detour on the way to a two state-solution. The relentless growth of Israeli presence in the West Bank belies what little public expression is given to the two-state solution by the Israeli government.
That presence is far more than actual building of townships; it includes lands resumed for infrastructure, agriculture, parks, archaeology and military uses. The continued growth of Israeli settlements and population flies in the face of any claims of ‘temporary’ occupation.
How should the well-intentioned observer respond to those limited (and rare) expressions of support of the two-state solution? With scepticism. The majority of the Netanyahu cabinet opposes the creation of a Palestinian state under any circumstances.
And why are Netanyahu and his government important in this debate? Israel was genuinely conceived as a national embodiment of Jewish aspirations for self-determination. Israel and Jewish peoplehood were two concepts intricately entwined. To reject Israel was to reject Jewish peoplehood, a step very close to antisemitism. No one with any moral and political sensibility would (or should) take even the smallest step down that road.
It is Netanyahu himself who has reframed the link between Israel as a nationality and Jewish peoplehood. He has used a divisive nationalistic/racial agenda hostile to Israel’s Arab citizens. He has legislated to curtail opposition in Israel’s civil society, and he denied Diaspora Jewish aspiration to belong in Israel by favouring legal and social measures in favour of the ultra-Orthodox at the expense of more liberal Jewish religious traditions.
There is a broad view around the world that Israel is pursuing a “Greater Israel” agenda. This is accompanied by a similar understanding that Israel is by far the more powerful party and that it is using its legislative powers, and economic and military superiority to achieve that goal. This recognition is exemplified by the 137 countries of the 193 UN members who currently recognise a Palestinian state.
How should Australian political parties of goodwill chart their course of action in relation to both Israeli and Palestinian aspirations to self-determination?
Where does the moral compass point?
The attendees at the Labor Conference face a dilemma: support for a Palestinian state contrary to the wishes of the Israeli government, or continued support for the Israeli government regardless of unacceptable policies.
The compass should point to a call on the Netanyahu government to cease further construction and population growth of settlements in the West Bank; it should call for two states for two peoples, both living within secure borders, and conclude with a call for the establishment of the second state in the two-state solution, a Palestinian state as an expression of self-determination for the Palestinian people.