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2 Aug 2017

Private Members Motion | Palestine

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (16:11): I rise to speak to the motion of the Hon. T. Franks. I speak in my own personal capacity. I will not be supporting the motion of the Hon. T. Franks. I note that the honourable Leader of the Government has just moved an amendment to that motion. While those amendments, if they prove successful, will in my view be an improvement, I still find that I cannot support them, and I am also seeking to amend the motion. I will move that amendment now and then I intend to speak. I move:

Leave out all words after ‘That this council—’ and insert the following:

1. Notes that the Australian government is committed to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict;

2. Calls on both sides to resume direct negotiations in good faith; and

3. Calls on the commonwealth government to recognise the state of Palestine once the two sides have successfully negotiated a two-state solution, as required by international law as set out in the Oslo Accords.

My comments will largely address my concerns regarding the motion moved by the Hon. T. Franks and, in effect, the alternative motion moved by the Hon. Kyam Maher. In doing so, I ask honourable members to also look favourably upon my own amendments that have been tabled by me in the spirit of goodwill to have a motion drafted in a manner that every member in the chamber can support.

The motions of the Hon. T. Franks and the Hon. Kyam Maher call on the commonwealth government to recognise the state of Palestine. This cuts across the federal Liberal government’s position of support for a two-state solution but does not recognise a state of Palestine at this time. The federal Liberal government encourages peace in the region and acknowledges that it is for the parties to negotiate a settlement.

The amended motion, as put forward by the Hon. Kyam Maher, reflects the evolving policy position within the Labor Party that we have seen unfold, as reported in the media. Should this or some similar position take firm hold in the Labor Party then we may see a significant gulf between the major parties on this issue. This will be a disappointing outcome because Australian foreign policy has been largely bipartisan, derived from the shared values that bind our community.

In my life, I have not had the opportunity to visit the region, which has so much significance to the faith of so many Australians, including myself. I do not profess to be an expert on the history of the region or its modern politics. For this debate, I am informed by my own readings and interest in this issue. I have taken time to consider the submissions from the bodies that represent the communities that are at odds with each other in the region. I have also considered other submissions by those interested in securing peace in the Middle East. I am not the first to find the issues in the Middle East confronting, challenging and very complex.

In this parliament, I am a co-sponsor of the South Australian Parliamentary Friends of Israel. The other sponsor is from the Labor Party and is the member for Taylor in the other place. I agreed to take on this role from a Liberal member, also in the other place. I do so because I have a great admiration for the nation of Israel. In a land of questionable regimes that are often founded on intolerance, Israel has a vibrant democracy that operates under the rule of law and is innovative and prosperous. It is also a country that has much in common with our own

My support and admiration for the accomplishments of the Israeli peoples should not be interpreted as my being against the Palestinian peoples. I believe that for Israel to have security, it needs a viable Palestinian state—a Palestinian state that recognises Israel and rejects violence against the Jewish people, where trust exists between the two peoples.

In my readings, I have been influenced by many arguments by those with a greater intimacy with the issues than I have. I have attempted to understand the issues from both perspectives, Israeli and Palestinian. For the purpose of this debate, I will bring to the attention of the chamber two that I found considered and persuasive. They were the recently expressed views of the Hon. Kim Beazley, a former Labor federal minister and ambassador to the United States, and the views expressed by Israeli diplomat Mr George Deek, who is of Arab descent and of the Orthodox Christian faith.

Mr Beazley makes the argument that Palestinian leaders have become very comfortable applying moral pressure on Israel but have not reflected on the difficult decisions they must make to achieve a lasting peace. Recognition will remove an incentive to reach agreement with Israel. He describes calls for immediate and unconditional recognition as ‘gesture politics and is simply not helpful’, with little regard to the realities on the ground.

Mr Beazley points out that there is a recognised set of criteria that brings about diplomatic recognition and that Palestine at this time does not meet such criteria. Recognising a state should only occur when the territory in question has the basic requirements of a state. Through no fault of the Palestinian people, this is not the circumstance currently on the ground. I find this line of reasoning persuasive.

While the motion before us does not demand immediate recognition, it is equally unhelpful, based on the same reasoning. The motion calls on the commonwealth government to recognise the Palestinian state when we do not know what it will actually entail. It is equally redundant to then require conditions and time lines. This will be a matter for the government of the day having regard to the circumstances between the parties. This approach could lead to premature recognition of Palestine and give false hope to the people. The move for recognition is hollow symbolism at best, a trademark of left politics, because it eschews any attempt to understand complex situations and, most importantly, seek lasting and meaningful solutions.

Mr Deek provides us with a unique perspective of modern Israel and hope for the future. He strongly acknowledges that every culture and religion is unique and therefore irreplaceable. He does not excuse Israel but extols a vision that is forward looking and full of hope for change and founded on shared humanity. He argues, as has Mr Beazley, that there needs to be self-criticism in the Palestinian mainstream today about the use of terrorism. He is also dismayed by the lack of tolerance towards Jewish people being passed on to Arab youths. Both Mr Beazley and Mr Deek argue for a change in political culture of Palestinian leadership as well as the building of its communities. Both are needed to secure a lasting peace.

I have read carefully the contributions made on a similar motion in the other place and in this chamber. I do not accept many of the assertions by those supporting the motion nor their reading of history, which in some instances is misguided or selective in its emphasis. I point out to honourable members that the United Kingdom did promise to create Arab states between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas. The League of Nations also gave control of the Palestinian mandate with the view to creating a Jewish state. The large part of this land became Jordan. I strongly reject the assertion by the member for Fisher in the other place that Israel was a solution to the suffering from Nazi persecution.

The Balfour Declaration and the British mandate both pre-date the evil we saw in the 1930s and 1940s. I especially draw to members’ attention that suggestions such as this are considered extremely objectionable by the Jewish community. The UN resolution 181 calling for partition, if accepted, would most likely lead to two states existing side by side. It was rejected by the local Arabs. The events that followed this rejection were of tragic proportions, resulting in large-scale dislocation of peoples.

The 1967 war was one of a defensive nature and Egypt occupied Gaza, Jordan, the West Bank and Jerusalem. It was not an attempt by Egypt to create a new state for the local peoples, and Jews were expelled. There have been repeated attempts by Israel to seek peace, including from the current Israeli Prime Minister. It is a tragedy that peace has not come from the Oslo Accords.

There is a part of this motion that seeks to address the issue of settlements; indeed, both motions that have been put to this chamber have done so. I acknowledge that this is an extremely sensitive issue for Palestinians. I acknowledge its complexity and importance to the peoples impacted, but I strongly reject the account by the member for Fisher in the other place. I question her perspective on this issue and find her hyperbolic statements unhelpful and not conducive to a reasoned discussion and debate.

I have seen numerous expert opinions on international law. I am not going to add my opinion to the many. I know that the assertions in the motion before us are strongly contested by Israel and other member states in the international community. Further, many of the UN resolutions are considered one-sided and not conducive to the successful conclusion of negotiations. I refer to recent reported comments by the Foreign Minister, the Hon. J. Bishop, and the Prime Minister on this issue.

I wish to raise one cautionary note. I would like to think that the debate of this issue, both in this chamber and outside of it, will not lead those with weaker natures to justify anti-Semitism. Debate is necessary and healthy for the community, but discussion of issues such as these should not be allowed to poison the valuable multicultural community compact we have achieved in this state. We have seen some dark shoots of bigotry in Australia in recent times. There have been movements to boycott businesses and individuals. All of us, as community leaders, must be clear that we will not condone behaviours that unfairly single out the Jewish community or constitute anti-Semitism.

I have moved an amendment to the motion. In doing so, I do not seek to paint Israel as a perfect democracy which is without fault. Our democracy has its own blemishes and imperfections. A friend of Israel is not to be an enemy of Palestine. Like everybody in this chamber, we wish for all in the region to find a way to coexist peacefully. In my own lifetime, I dream of seeing a state of Palestine working cooperatively and collaboratively with its neighbour Israel to advance the lives of those who live in the Middle East, a Palestinian state that has democratically elected leaders, respects the rule of law, rejects terrorism and promotes religious tolerance.

I know that my position on the original motion and the amended motion by the Hon. Kyam Maher, if successful, will disappoint many in South Australia who believe recognition for the state of Palestine should occur to facilitate peaceful negotiations. I thank them for their constructive engagement with me on this issue. My argument is that Palestinians of all factions must reject violence, and that the Israelis must negotiate in good faith. I acknowledge the risk so many have taken to secure peace in the past. I acknowledge the frustration of all in the South Australian community who are engaged on this issue at the impasse and failure to find a peaceful settlement. This is my rationale for amending the motion to a simple proposition that can be supported by all in this chamber.

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