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Penny Wong on why she backs recognising a Palestinian state

Recognising a Palestinian state would undermine Hamas and strengthen Israel's hope of security, argues Australia's foreign minister in this extract from a speech delivered to the ANU National Security College last night.
Penny Wong
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Published: 10 April 2024

Last updated: 10 April 2024

On October 7, Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas.

The greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust.

Hamas killed 1,200 people, including Australian grandmother Galit Carbone - and continues to hold 134 hostages.

Australia remains steadfast in our call for the immediate and unconditional release of remaining hostages – families of whom I have met both in Israel and Australia.

Any country under attack by Hamas would defend itself.

And in defending itself, every country is bound by the same fundamental rules.

Israel must comply with international humanitarian law.

It must make major and immediate changes to the conduct of its military campaign, to protect civilians, journalists and aid workers.

It must comply with the binding orders of the International Court of Justice, including to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance at scale.

Six months on from October 7, well over one million Palestinians in Gaza are at risk of starvation.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, including many thousands of women and children.

196 aid workers have been killed, including Australian Zomi Frankcom.

Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It is proscribed as such in Australia. It has no respect for international law.

Democracies seek and accept higher standards.

This is why Australia and so many countries have called on the Netanyahu Government to change course, including in respect of a major ground offensive in Rafah. Again we say, do not go down this path.

When President Biden cautions that Mr Netanyahu “is hurting Israel more than helping".

And when Senator Schumer expresses concern that “Israel cannot hope to succeed as a pariah opposed by the rest of the world”…

It is in Israel’s own interest that the Netanyahu Government responds to the demands of the international community.

Israel’s own security depends on a two-state solution.

Anyone who considers themselves a friend of Israel should be making that point.

In addition to our demand on all parties for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, enabling the release of hostages, the protection of civilians, and safe and unimpeded humanitarian access…

We need to build the pathway out of the endless cycle of violence.

We need to build the pathway to a peace that is enduring, and just.

Because the simple truth is that a secure and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians will only come with a two-state solution. Recognition of each other’s right to exist. A Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.

We are now thirty years on from the Oslo Accords that put Palestinian statehood at the end of a process.

The failures of this approach by all parties over decades - as well as the Netanyahu Government’s refusal to even engage on the question of a Palestinian state - have caused widespread frustration.

So the international community is now considering the question of Palestinian statehood as a way of building momentum towards a two-state solution.

As British Foreign Secretary Cameron has said the UK “will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations”. He said this could make the two-state solution “irreversible”.

There are always those who claim recognition is rewarding an enemy.

This is wrong.

First, because Israel’s own security depends on a two-state solution.

There is no long-term security for Israel unless it is recognised by the countries of its region.

But the normalisation agenda that was being pursued before October 7 cannot proceed without progress on Palestinian statehood.

Saudi Arabia has made clear “there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized”.

Second, because there is no role for Hamas in a future Palestinian state. Hamas is a terrorist organisation which has the explicit intent of the destruction of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

And it should be acknowledged that Hamas also rains terror on the Palestinian people in Gaza.

It’s not ok to blame anyone in Australia for the actions of Hamas. It’s not ok to blame anyone in Australia for the actions of the Netanyahu Government.

It has long been understood that any future Palestinian state cannot be in a position to threaten Israel’s security and will need a reformed Palestinian Authority.

Recognising a Palestinian state – one that can only exist side by side with a secure Israel – doesn’t just offer the Palestinian people an opportunity to realise their aspirations.

It also strengthens the forces for peace and undermines extremism. It undermines Hamas, Iran and Iran’s other destructive proxies in the region.

A two-state solution is the only hope of breaking the endless cycle of violence.

This is why we are urging all parties to return to the table, and why we are engaging to support all efforts to advance a political process, including discussions between regional leaders.

Australia’s diplomacy and decisions are focused on helping advance this lasting peace – which is what we have always said we would do.

There is a need to acknowledge the real trauma on all sides, to acknowledge each other’s humanity, and to come together - as peacemakers throughout history have done.

That is also the approach I urge community and political leaders in Australia to embrace.

It is disheartening to witness the number of Australians that increasingly struggle to discuss this conflict without condemning their fellow citizens.

This imperils our democracy. We have to keep listening to each other; respecting each other.

But I have heard language demonstrating that people are losing respect for each other’s humanity.

Blatant antisemitism and Islamophobia.

I’ve heard people who claim to represent one perspective, diminishing the legitimacy of the other. Seeking to intimidate and blame.

It’s not ok to blame anyone in Australia for the actions of Hamas.

It’s not ok to blame anyone in Australia for the actions of the Netanyahu Government.

And it’s not ok to excuse egregious acts, just because they’re done by people whose views you share.

We gain nothing by reproducing the conflict here, by talking past each other, by shouting each other down and by insisting on respective absolutes.

As I said, we are a pluralist country, welcoming different races, religions and views.

What unites us is respect for each other and our right to live in peace.

Yet there are too many politicians in Australia who are manipulating legitimate and heartfelt community concern for their own ends.

The Greens political party is willing to purposely amplify disinformation, exploiting distress in a blatant and cynical play for votes. With no regard for the social disharmony they are fuelling.

This is not some game. There are consequences.

At the same time, Mr Dutton reflexively dismisses concern for Palestinians as “Hamas sympathising.”

On this, and in his approach to the world, Mr Dutton needs to decide if he wants to be a leader in difficult times - or if he wants to continue being a wrecking ball, making those times even more difficult.

Australians know our country needs mature leadership for serious times.

The Albanese Government is meeting the challenges Australia faces in our region and the world, with unprecedented coordination and ambition in our statecraft.

Because this is the only way to advance Australia’s interests in shaping a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous.

A region free of hegemony.

A region in balance.

Where countries, large and small, have the freedom to decide our own futures.

Where we operate by the same rules, and we have space to agree and to disagree.

About the author

Penny Wong

Penny Wong is Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs.


  • Avatar of Abe James

    Abe James10 April at 06:38 am

    Since 1948 and countless wars against Israel by many ARAB countries wanting to destroy Israel,it’s a big assumption to believe a Palestinian State would bring Peace. The Palestinians and their Muslim Brothers need to wholeheartedly agree that WAR with ISRAEL is OVER & PEACE is their War Cry. Israel needs to see it their Eyes & hear it in their Language and feel it in their Physiology & then I believe a Palestinian State along side Israel can be born.

  • Avatar of Cameron Delwyn

    Cameron Delwyn9 April at 11:31 pm

    My question is why do you think the Palestinians will now accept a two state solution when it has been offered many times and rejected every time. With over 70% of Palestinians supporting Hamas how can there be any guarantee that Israel will be left in peace?

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