Indeed, Australia has played a prominent role in the region since H.V. ‘Doc’ Evatt, former Attorney General and President of the United Nations General Assembly worked to secure the Partition Plan of November 1947 that ultimately led to the establishment of the State of Israel. Since then, Australia, like many Western allies has withheld its criticism of Israel, speaking out only occasionally relating to matters of peace, security and democracy.
Yet as the July 1st deadline approaches for the Israeli Government to annex the West Bank, Australia needs to break its silence and speak out as so many other allies have done, to stand for democracy and equal rights in Israel and Palestine.
Since the formation of his government in May of this year, Prime Minister Netanyahu has done everything he can to to form a coalition and retain power, including committing to the annexation of Palestinian Territories taken in battle at the conclusion of the Six-Day War in 1967. And as Netanyahu’s proposed deadline of July 1st for annexation continues to draw nearer, cries from the international community grow ever louder.
Now, over 1,000 European politicians from across 25 nations are speaking out, joining calls from myriad leaders including the United Nations Secretary General, the New Zealand Government, the UAE Ambassador to Washington, Vice President Biden and over three quarters of United States Senate Democrats, demonstrating that the time has come for the Australian Government to speak up. This is not a niche issue for a select few in the international community, nor is it well off into the distant future. It is an urgent priority of the international community and Australia needs to act to remedy this problem right now.
We know that annexation of the West Bank is not in the best interests of Palestinians, nor is it in the best interest of Israelis. It seriously jeopardises peace and security in the region, and it threatens the prospect of long established peace deals with Israel’s neighbours, Egypt and Jordan. It would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in disconnected enclaves and erode Israel’s status as a democracy as it moves to assert control of land obtained by force. That’s why a wide array of prominent leaders including a coalition of 25 former Israeli security and defense officials have joined the chorus of voices warning against the plans by the current administration to move towards annexation. They’re joined by hundreds of Jewish academics, over six hundred members of the clergy and alumni of various gap year programs for students in Israel.
Unfortunately, I could go on listing the members of the academic, professional and international community who are speaking out against the dangers of annexation because there’s certainly no shortage. One voice however, that is conspicuously absent is the voice of the Australian Government. As a nation that prides itself as a champion of democracy and ‘the land of the fair go’, we need to speak up and speak out against injustices in the international community. We’ve certainly had no problem doing so in the past, whether it be Foreign Minister Payne condemning the treatment of Uighurs in China last year, or the former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop who imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion in Crimea, Australia clearly has a willingness to speak out on the international stage in defense of justice and international law.
Which is precisely why Australia cannot afford to remain silent on this matter any longer. Indeed, our very own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acknowledges that ‘Australian aid to the PTs (Palestinian Territories) is a practical and genuine demonstration of our long-standing support for the Middle East peace process’. If this is truly the case, we must ask ourselves how being silent at this time demonstrates support for the Middle East peace process.
The peace process is predicated upon compromise, trade-offs and on sacrifices made by both Israelis and the Palestinians. Whether it be the Oslo Accords or Camp David negotiations, the peace that’s followed have long relied upon the international community to help broker discussions between parties. Yet the very same Oslo Accords, reached with the assistance of President Clinton in 1993 are now at risk, should annexation move ahead. Just as President Clinton facilitated the peace achieved in the 1990s in the Middle East, it’s President Trump who threatens to erode this peace by greenlighting Netanyahu’s move towards annexation.
We must therefore ask ourselves, what will the annexation of the Palestinian Territories achieve? How will laying claim to land taken by Israel by force, further the peace process? What is gained by exerting Israeli control of land recognised as belonging to Palestinians by countless UN resolutions, land that would belong to Palestine under any negotiated two state solution?If the answer to these questions is “nothing”, or worse, that such a move would jeopardise peace and security in the region, then Australia needs to make this known. Australia, a nation that prides itself on its democratic values, on its role as a middle power in the international community, has a role to play in this critical development. As an honest broker in the region, one invested in nothing other than regional peace and security should therefore speak up and call for Israel to halt plans for annexation. To do otherwise would be to continue to permit a dangerous agenda that threatens peace and security for millions.
Michael Chaitow is a Jewish community organiser and activist from Sydney, currently based in New York.