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Eyeless in Gaza - no: Clueless in Australia

It is something of an event when a long-standing friend of Israel chooses to publicly criticize it and recommend recognising Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) (but not Hamas-controlled Gaza) as a sovereign 'Palestine.' In the case of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, writing recently in the Australian Financial Review (14 Feb.), this was always going to be newsworthy, given his long role in passionately standing up for Israel in the labor movement at home and abroad amidst the radical furies of the 1970s.

Accordingly, Mr Hawke's views command attention and their provenance can have an impact on an ALP seeking to define its stance. In fact, it probably has: since his piece appeared, former Labor Foreign Ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr have felt called upon renew their own calls for recognising 'Palestine' and they now been joined by former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Mr Hawke was once an eloquent proponent of the view that Israel could not relinquish territories to forces inimical to its existence. Yet his views began to alter, perhaps as early as the late 1970s, but certainly by the mid-1980s. It is not unreasonable to suppose that his Israeli Labor counterparts, who were increasingly adopting the view that a Palestinian state might defuse the conflict, exerted an influence on his thinking. Witnessing a seemingly unending sequence of bloodshed and uneasy respites over decades inclines people of goodwill to suppose that a bold initiative might break the tragic logjam. And indeed, the Israeli Labor Party did eventually embrace this point of view, chartering in 1993 the Oslo peace process with Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), upon whose probity its ultimate success depended.

It did not work out as intended, at least on the Israeli side. The PA regime established in Gaza and Jericho in 1994, later progressively extended to other major population centers in the West Bank, proved a corrupt and violent entity which, far from fostering a renovation of Palestinian society away from terrorism and conquest towards peace and accommodation, actually incubated the jihadist terror organizations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Children within the PA became hostage to an educational system replete with incitement to hatred and murder. One need only view a few video clips of Palestinian classrooms, with their pupils interviewed openly and proudly on PA television, extolling the religious and national duty of murdering Israelis, to see the bloodcurdling effectiveness of this sort of pedagogy.

None of this was altered or ameliorated by the transfer by Israel of territory, funds and, tragically, even arms, to Arafat's forces, to say nothing of the vast inflow of foreign capital: in the Oslo era, Palestinians became the largest per capita recipients of international aid while, for example, tragically destitute Niger, with one doctor per 33,000 people, got peanuts.

Ambitious peace plans, going beyond what most Israelis before, then and since regarded as prudent, the first brokered by US President Bill Clinton in 2000-1, the second proposed by then-Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, were rebutted without counter-offer by the PA.

Indeed, Arafat's response in 2000 was to launch a terror wave of suicide bombers against Israel that lasted four years and claimed the lives of over 1,100 Israelis. In the years since Oslo, more Israeli lives have been snuffed out by terrorists than had been in all 45 years of Israel's national existence that preceded Oslo.

The wonder, then, is not that Hawke changed his view on dealing with the PLO -- many a friend of Israel, to say nothing of about half of Israelis, came to the view that the conflict was perpetuated by the absence of Palestinian self-determination, not continuing rejection of Israel's legitimacy and permanence. Rather, the wonder is that many including Mr Hawke continue to subscribe to this viewpoint, long after the Oslo process had been tested to destruction and ruination. It is peculiar to read Mr Hawke today, thinking and arguing as though Oslo never happened, as if dealing with Arafat's lieutenants and loyalists had never been tried.

Thus, he now writes,"I and the friends of Israel around the world are fearful that in a real sense we may be witnessing again after thousands of years a giant Eyeless in Gaza. Is there not emerging the danger of Israel being blinded to the threat to its very soul and the vision of its future?"

Other than one small change of phrase, Mr Hawke has lifted verbatim a passage from a speech he gave in May 1988 where he first voiced the view that Palestinian statelessness was the key issue. No-one who has spoken to Mr Hawke about Israel, as I have several times in the past, including on that night in May 1988, could doubt that he viewed negotiations with the PLO as the acme of far-sighted Israeli statesmanship. Far from being disabused by the carnage and tragedy that followed from Israel acting on such advice, and, ironically, eleven years since Israel evacuated every Jew, living and dead, from Gaza in return for exponentially increased rocket assaults, he seems entrenched in the view that he has been right all along.

Mr Hawke used to propound the view that, should Israel ever be assaulted from territories it had ceded for peace, it should reoccupy them in perpetuity, without any further "argy-bargy." Today, however, in the absence of argy-bargy -- the PA has persistently refused all but one week of talks with Israeli counterparts in the past eight years -- he thinks Australia should recognise as a sovereign state the PA that has served as the base for these assaults. Accordingly, he joins the ranks of those who urged Israel to take risks for peace and continue to do so, long after it has blown up in its face.

Why has he done so? With those who were always hostile to Israel, there is little mystery, but in the case of Mr Hawke it is difficult to diagnose the cause. A warm friend of the late Israeli Labor Prime Minister, Golda Meir, Mr Hawke, in his recent piece, recalls her telling him in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War that "there could be no peace for Israel until there was an honourable settlement of the aspirations of the Palestinian people."

Peculiarly, this recollection is not to be found in the detailed account of this meeting in Blanche D'Alpuget's biography (Robert J. Hawke, pp. 259-60). But whenever Golda Meir communicated these views to him, it remains worth noting that she also said in 1976 that the "startling effrontery" of the PLO in seeking a Palestinian state, the better to assault Israel at a later date, made it ineligible for talks until its changed its eliminationist program.

The PLO has certainly since changed some of its statements (at least in English) -- and, as noted, was rewarded with recognition, territory and assets as a result -- but it only takes a moment's checking of today's scene to see that the change Mrs Meir hoped to see has yet to emerge.

In the last month alone, the PA has upbraided the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the "sin" of correctly stating that the Jewish biblical temples stood on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. An Al-Quds university academic, professing that Jews have no historical connection to the city, was just broadcast on PA TV. Indeed, the PA, whom Mr Hawke wishes to recognise as a state, has called for such a state to be Jew-free.

Mr Hawke's cri de cœur shows no flicker of recognition of the state of Palestinian society today and its majority support for terrorism against Israel. Of the PA-encouraged and applauded wave of ongoing stabbing attacks on Jews walking Israeli streets, or the call to preserve the mosques atop Jerusalem's Temple Mount from wholly imaginary assault from what the PA's Abbas called the Jews' "filthy feet,' not a word.

Indeed, Mr Hawke doesn't seem to have noticed that the PA recently led a successful effort at the UN with the backing of the so-called 'non-aligned' bloc to have UNESCO authorize a flat-earth resolution rewriting history by declaring Jerusalem's Temple Mount to be an exclusively Muslim site.

Mr Hawke used to oppose mightily the cynical manipulation and fostering of Jew-hatred, encoded as anti-Zionism, via international organizations. Today, however, when blatant denial of Jewish history and heritage is the order of the day and malevolent anti-Semitic fiction declared to be fact, he believes that Israel can obtain peace from those who deny Jews ever lived there.

Instead of conceding that Israel did as he urged and was rewarded with bloodshed, opprobrium and boycott, he lends his hand today to applauding December's UN Security Council Resolution 2334, another flat-earth resolution, which has condemned as illegal all Jewish residence in the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem. (Actually, Jewish settlement in these territories has been something enshrined in international law since the 1920 San Remo settlement and never subsequently extinguished by any binding agreement).

Mr Hawke now urges Australia to recognise 'Palestine,' an international fabrication designed to circumvent the negotiations that he believed -- as he enthusiastically opined at the time of Oslo Accords -- he had been ahead of his time in urging upon the Israelis. He shows no sign of having thought whether Australian recognition of 'Palestine' might aid postponing indefinitely any prospect of a settled peace, as indeed it does: Israeli/Palestinian negotiations have less chance of convening, much less succeeding, if only because 2334 tells Palestinians that everything is theirs and that there is nothing to negotiate.

Indeed, even Mr Hawke seems to be thinking this way. Why else recycle, as he did in his piece, the old chestnut that the 1947 UN General Assembly partition resolution recommending two states, which as he reminds us, emerged in good part due to the efforts of Australia's External Affairs Minister, Dr. H.V. Evatt, gave 54% of "the Palestinians' best cultivated land and cities" in British Mandate of Palestine to its Jewish third, who merely owned 6% of the country, while giving a mere 47% "of their own country" to the Palestinian two-thirds who owned the remaining 92%?

Not only is the mathematics shoddy, but the statistics absurd: in the territory that became Israel in 1948, Jews owned 8.6% of the land, Arabs owned 20.2%, and the remainder --71.2% -- was Crown land. The greater part of the territory awarded to the Jews by the UN, far from being "the Palestinians' best cultivated land and cities" was the almost uninhabited Negev desert. Major Arab cities and towns -- Jaffa, Ramleh, Lydda, Ramallah, Nazareth, Gaza -- were all awarded by the UN to the intended Arab state and would be part of one today, had the Palestinian and wider Arab leadership accepted the award.

How swallowing whole and regurgitating a cynical fabrication routinely disseminated by Israel's enemies honours Golda Meir, a plucky defender of her country, and her aspirations for peace is anyone's guess. It is surely not saying too much to assert, at the least, that she would have been profoundly dismayed at this turn of argument from her passionately pro-Israel Australian friend.

Whatever brought Bob Hawke to this pass can only be guessed at. But one can certainly say of his current preoccupation with establishing a Palestinian state via international pressure on Israel is that it suffers from the undemocratic tendency of seeking to compel Israel, against the judgment of its government and electorate, to make self-defeating concessions to a unreconstructed, irredentist Palestinian regime.

It also partakes of the flawed tendency to believe that such a state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians currently accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won't bring peace, why create it or urge its creation upon others? Surely, a policy that devises carrots and sticks to induce Palestinians to relinquish their war on Israel's continued existence provides the best basis for future, fruitful negotiations.

In the meantime, Palestinians live under Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank. Scarcely a happy outcome for Palestinians, who must contend with the despotism, brutality, corruption and capriciousness of their own regimes, even while sharing their political goals. But we can discard the cant about their being occupied by an Israel that stands to lose its soul.

As it stands, the PA lacks vital attributes of sovereignty required under international law, such as effective control of territory and undivided authority. Does Australia really wish to endorse a mischievous fiction by recognizing 'Palestine,' which additionally circumvents a negotiated settlement? Mr Hawke never asked this question, but those reading him should.

Daniel Mandel is Director of the Zionist Organization's Center for Middle East Policy, a former Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).

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