Time to recognise the state of Palestine
by Bob Hawke
Former prime minister of Australia
In one of the more troubled areas of a troubled world – the Middle East – there are a very few certainties. One of those is this – there can be no possibility of any sort of lasting peace without a settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute.
I am well known as a long-time supporter of the right of Israel to exist as a state behind secure and recognised borders – nothing has changed in that respect. What has changed is the sentiment of Israeli political leadership.
I will always remember my meeting immediately after the end of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 with its then Prime Minister Golda Meir. I listened with admiration and in total agreement as this wonderful woman, still traumatised with grief, looked into my eyes and said there could be no peace for Israel until there was an honourable settlement of the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Golda Meir was absolutely right and her words have a particular resonance – and invoke a special responsibility – for Australia. It was our great foreign minister, Dr HV Evatt who chaired the UN Special Committee on Palestine and it was the Resolution of that Committee that authorised the partition of Palestine into two states.
It was upon the basis of this resolution that the State of Israel was established in 1948. The resolution gave the already settled and the newly arriving European Jewish settlers – who by then constituted one-third of the population and owned less than six per cent of the land – exactly 56.47 per cent of the Palestinians' best cultivated land and cities. The two-thirds population of indigenous Palestinians who owned more than 94 per cent of the land were given 47 per cent of their own country.
The aspirations of Evatt, the UN and the humanitarian foresight of Golda Meir have been trashed by the inexorable expansion of Jewish settlement in the West Bank – some 580,000 Israelis live in 123 government-authorised settlements and about 100 unauthorised outposts on the West Bank and 12 major neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
In total contempt of the UN Security Council Resolution passed on December 23, 2016 the Israeli Government announced on January 24, 2017 its intention to build another 2500 settlements across the West Bank and approved 20 permits for 566 settlements in East Jerusalem.
The damning condemnation of Israel's expansionist settlement policy, carried 14-0 by the Security Council, is encapsulated in the first item of the Resolution: "1. Reaffirm that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."
The situation is clear – starkly clear. Like the Jews in the Soviet Union and the blacks in South Africa, the Palestinian has an aspiration to be fully free. But with a majority of the Netanyahu Government openly declared against a Palestine state they understandably see little hope in the political process. 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?
Australia was there at the very beginning. The least we can do now, in these most challenging of times, is to do what 137 other nations have already done – grant diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine.