Powered byWebtrack Logo


Feckless West can’t keep falling for Hamas propaganda

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags as they stage a protest to condemn the Israeli fire along the Gaza Strip at ...

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags as they stage a protest to condemn the Israeli fire along the Gaza Strip at Trocadero plaza in Paris, France, Wednesday. The West shouldn't condone Palestinian attempts to delegitimise Israel. MICHEL EULER

There's something a little undignified about former ministers and prime ministers lecturing their successors. After all, their successors operate in a different environment from their predecessors. What's more, when you reflect on the past you somehow remember things more favourably than they were.

So let me be really positive about my Liberal successor, Julie Bishop. She took a courageous decision to oppose outright the biased resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate why Israeli troops had fired on and killed  about 60 Palestinians on the Israel/Gaza border.

In doing that, she applied the test I always applied to the numerous Middle East resolutions put up in every imaginable UN forum; support the resolution if you think it will help the peace process. If you don't and, what's more, if it's just a political stunt, then oppose it.

So let's try to understand what's going on here.

First, the obvious: it would be a great triumph of international diplomacy if there were a breakthrough in the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides profess to support a two-state solution, so why don't they just get on with negotiating the borders between the two states and be done with it. There could be compromises: rather than just revert to the 1967 boundaries, account could be taken of new realities on the ground such as the extensive Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Land could be swapped.

And the Palestinians could have their capital in East Jerusalem and the Israelis right where it actually is: in West Jerusalem.

There are other issues, of course, such as the rights of dispossessed Palestinians to return. But, again, hard bargaining and compromises should resolve those problems.

So why doesn't peace ever happen? Well, as with all frozen conflicts - take Kashmir and Cyprus - the problem is that the politics aren't right. The solution the international community wants isn't easy to sell to the locals. And the Middle East conflict, like all conflicts, is ultimately about local politics.

Madeleine Albright told me that during the Camp David negotiations in 2000, Bill Clinton put forward proposal after proposal for a two-state solution. Detailed maps were drawn up, adjusted, considered, redrawn. The then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, liked some of them but the then Palestinian leader, the legendary Yassar Arafat, always said no. So the Americans did the obvious: they turned to Arafat and asked that he put forward his own borders. He refused to do it.

Two-state silence

A few years later, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, wrote to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) putting forward a specific plan for a two-state solution. He did it through a third party: President Assad of Syria. Abu Mazen never replied. Olmert ended up being convicted for corruption. And Assad … well, he's clinging on.

A couple of years ago I was at a conference in Norway with Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister and secretary-general of the Arab League. Over a post-prandial drink, he vigorously denounced the Israelis in, as they say in diplomacy, familiar terms. So I asked him why the Palestinians didn't come up with their own detailed peace plan, publish it, borders and all, and put the Israelis under more pressure to negotiate. He gave no answer.

All this leads me to where you always go in politics; the opinion polls. The vast majority of Israelis favour a two-state solution with secure borders. But the Palestinians are more equivocal. At best, they regard the two-state solution as an interim arrangement. In the end they want one multicultural state incorporating Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

That means, getting rid of the whole concept of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

So you see the problem; if the Palestinian leadership were to propose specific border lines as part of a permanent solution, that could be pretty unpopular.

Above all, it would be unpopular with Hamas, the people who organised the attack on Israel's border a couple of weeks ago. They oppose the two-state solution and want to dismantle Israel as a Jewish state. After all, if they wanted a two-state solution, what are they doing trying to tear down the border and attack Israeli villages? The truth is, even if Abu Mazen and his team in Ramallah want a two-state solution, Hamas and Iran don't and the Palestinian public are, at best equivocal.

Any tactics will do

So that brings us to the Hamas protest against the US Embassy on the Israeli/Gaza border. Hamas' strategy is to build international opposition to a Jewish state. Since they don't care about human life, any tactics will do.

They sent their fighters - as well as women and even some children - to try to breach the Israeli border and attack Israelis within Israel. The Israelis tried to stop them breaching the border with tear gas and even leaflets. But they kept coming trying to breach the border. The Israeli army fired at the invaders feet but even that didn't work. In the end they did shoot dead some of the attackers.

That may have been tragic. But 80 per cent of the victims were Hamas fighters, not Sunday afternoon protesters. For Hamas it was a triumph. They got what they wanted. Martyrs, as they like to call the victims, helped them win a media propaganda war worldwide. They saw it as a price worth paying. Even thrusting children and babies into a conflict zone is okay by them.

How feckless are so many governments to be taken in by these cruel tactics. And where, ultimately, will this lead? Will the Jewish people, mercilessly persecuted for centuries, give up their own state? Will those great people who have given so much to science and scholarship give in and let cruel extremists like Hamas define their future? I think not.

The West needs to toughen up. It should have a clear strategy and not be buffeted by stunts. Particularly stunts that cost human lives. Israel should negotiate, of course. But so should the Palestinians whether they be Hamas or Fatah.

Julie Bishop helped lead the way at the Human Rights Council. We need more Julie Bishops running Western diplomacy; people who don't fall for stunts.

Alexander Downer is High Commissioner To The UK and  a former Australian Foreign Minister

# reads: 953

Original piece is

Printable version