Labor in a tizz over how to save apartheid Israel

There’s a fight going on inside the Labor Party over the cosmetics of its position on Israel and Palestine. Currently, party leader Bill Shorten, who wants to shake the hand of Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu while he’s visiting Australia, is sticking with the ALP’s long standing policy.

Whether Labor or the Coalition has been in office, Australian governments have been among the fiercest supporters of apartheid Israel since its creation. Unlike about 138 other countries, Australia has refused to recognise the Palestinian Authority as the government of a Palestinian state. Slavish backing of Israel is mainly a by-product of the Australia-US alliance, which has long benefited the ruling class here.

In the Australian parliament, the most hard-line supporter of Israel, including of its military aggression, is the Labor member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby. Danby thinks that the recent legalisation of the theft of even more privately owned Palestinian land on the West Bank, by Israeli colonists, was a bad idea.

But, Danby argues, there is no reason to recognise a Palestinian state. For Danby and the Israeli authorities, the weaker the PA is, the better.

Some members of the Israeli government also dislike the new law. Although Israel and its Zionist predecessors have been stealing Palestinian land for over a century, they are worried that it is too large and sudden a step. It might provoke a militant response from ordinary Palestinians and create further sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke, a passionate “friend of Israel” for decades, and Kevin Rudd, along with former Labor foreign ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr now think that the PA should be recognised. They argue that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the latest Israeli land grab run the risk of fatally puncturing the already dissolving illusion of a possible “two state solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Rudd is fearful of a third Intifada: another Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Recognition, they hope, will be a diplomatic finger slap that prompts the Israeli government to wake up to its own interests and adds to the credibility of the PA.

The illusion of the “two state solution” was used to justify the establishment of the PA in 1994, as Israel’s out-sourced police force to discipline the Palestinian people, and to urge it to make ever greater concessions to Israel’s demands.

Israel and its backers attribute the lack of progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state to the bad faith of the PA.

Yet, under the cover of the “two state illusion”, the annexation of Palestinian land on the West Bank, all of it already entirely under Israeli military control, has not slowed but expanded.

Hawke writes that he supports both the Palestinian “aspiration to be fully free” and “the right of Israel to exist as a state behind secure and recognised borders”. These are totally incompatible. While Israel exists, neither its second class Palestinian citizens, nor the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora can have full civic rights, including to their land, let alone democratic control over their lives.

The squabble in the Labor Party over how to best back Israel reflects growing global sympathy, crucially from ordinary people rather than governments, for the Palestinians. It’s sign of desperation and isolation that Netanyahu is coming to this pissy middle power on the other side of the planet. He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to do so.

Increased recognition of the repressive PA as a state is symbolic of this shift. But it won’t satisfy the aspirations of Palestinians for freedom.

Only a democratic state made up of all those now living within the borders of historic Palestine, together with the Palestinian diaspora, can achieve that goal.

Rick Kuhn was a founder of Jews Against Occupation and Oppression