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Penny Wong raises ‘alarming trends’ in Israel as ALP prepares to vote on Palestine

TJI Wrap
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Published: 4 August 2023

Last updated: 19 March 2024

The ALP national conference will vote on recognising Palestine this month. Concerns about the Netanyahu government are adding weight to the campaign.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has raised concerns over “alarming” trends in Israel with the Netanyahu government.

During a meeting with Labor MPs on Tuesday, Wong was asked whether Israel's government - through its judicial overhaul and policy on settlements - is leading Israel "down a less democratic path".

Wong warned of "alarming trends" in Israeli democracy, saying she had raised Australia's concerns with its government. She also described the acceleration of Israeli settlements as "an obstacle to peace" in the region.

Australia formally raised “deep concerns” about settlement growth and loss of life in the West Bank, in a joint statement with the UK and Canada released at the beginning of July.

“We are gravely concerned by the government of Israel’s approval on June 26 of over 5700 new settlement units in the West Bank. We are also concerned by the changes to the settlement approval process instituted by the government of Israel on June 18, which facilitate swifter approval of construction in settlements.

“The continued expansion of settlements is an obstacle to peace and negatively impacts efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution. We call on the government of Israel to reverse these decisions.

“We are also deeply troubled by the continued violence and loss of life in Israel and in the West Bank. We unequivocally condemn all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians, including the terrorist attack on June 20 in Eli targeting Israeli civilians. We also condemn the reprehensible and ongoing settler violence targeting Palestinians,” the statement said.

The ALP is scheduled to vote on Israel-Palestine policy at its national conference on August 17-19.  The draft platform includes a motion to recognise Palestine as a state, alongside Israel, which is expected to pass.

The motion reads: “The National Conference: (a) Supports the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders; (b) Calls on the Australian Government to recognise Palestine as a state; and (c) Expects that this issue will be an important priority for the Australian Government.”

The State of Palestine has been recognised by 138 of the UN’s 193 members. (Israel is recognised by 165.) But those who have declined to recognise Palestine include most major liberal democracies, including the US, Canada, the UK, France, and Germany.

Recognising Palestine became ALP policy in 2021, though the new policy raises the pressure from a party now in government. But the parliamentary party is not bound by its national conference so the motion will not necessarily lead to Australia recognising Palestine.

Wong avoided addressing the issue directly when asked by The Jewish Independent last year and after the Victorian and Queensland conferences voted to recognise Palestine in June, her office declined to comment on whether the government would change its policy.

Among those pushing for recognition of Palestine are major elder statesmen of the ALP, including former NSW premier Bob Carr and international policymaker and former foreign minister Gareth Evans, whose views carry considerable clout

They argue Australia has a moral compulsion to recognise the Palestinian right to statehood and that any hope for peace requires recognition of Palestine. 

“The threat and reality of violence, whether by Hamas or anyone else, diminishes rapidly when Palestinians see a path ahead of genuine hope for a just and dignified settlement. And it escalates equally rapidly when they do not,” Evans wrote in an extensive argument for recognition.

Leading Jewish groups, including the Zionist Federation of Australia  and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry oppose recognition of Palestine. They argue Palestine does not meet the conditions for statehood because it is deeply divided, does not have stable government or economic viability and will not commit to living in peace alongside Israel.

“Recognising a Palestinian state would be an incentive to the Palestinian Authority to perpetuate, not resolve, the conflict with Israel,” ECAJ co-chair Peter Wertheim wrote recently in an extensive argument against recognition.

Penny Wong raises 'alarming trends' with Israel amid furore over controversial reforms (SBS)

Wishful thinking will not create a Palestinian state (ECAJ)

Gareth Evans: The case for recognising Palestine ALP (The Jewish Independent)

Victoria conference calls on Albanese government to recognise Palestine (The Jewish Independent)

Frozen between despair and denial: The role of Australian Jews in an intractable conflict (Denis Altman, Australian Book Review)
Support for Israel comes from the peak bodies of the Australian Jewish community, in particular the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, perhaps the most successful lobby group for a foreign country in our history.

Photo: Penny Wong with Palestine and Israel flags (Photo: DFAT, Graphic: The Jewish Independent)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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