02 January 2015

There is no war between Israel and a nonexistent nation

From The Australian, 3 Jan 2014, by Gerard Henderson:

IN mid-December I travelled from Jerusalem to Ramallah for meetings inside the territory presided over by the Palestinian Authority. I was accompanied by an able young diplomat who heads the Australian Representative Office in Ramallah.
All was quiet on the border between the area of the West Bank presided over by Israel and that governed by the PA. Despite some tensions between the administrations in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas had decided to continue the security agreement that exists between the PA and Israel. This protects both entities from terrorist attacks from Islamists including those who express allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

So it came as some surprise when ABC News Breakfast presenter Beverley O’Connor introduced a segment on the Middle East on Thursday with a reference to what she termed the “Israeli-Palestinian war”. O’Connor later referred to the “very costly and brutal conflict between Israel and Palestine that seems to have no end”.

Contrary to O’Connor’s editorialising, there is no war between Israel and Palestine. Nor has such an entity as Palestine ever existed. Jordan was in control of the area between Israel and the Jordan River between the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the 1967 war, which saw Israel occupy the area. In almost two decades Jordan did not establish a state of Palestine.

... no elected Israeli leader, on the right or the left, will agree to the creation of a Palestinian state without a watertight security agreement.

In Australia’s last vote in its two-year position on the UN Security Council, the Abbott government opposed a resolution proposed by Jordan, which set a three-year deadline for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 “green line”. The Jordanian resolution also provided for the creation of a Palestinian state.

In this instance, Australia’s position was identical to that taken by Barack Obama’s administration. The Jordanian resolution failed to take into account that a peace process in the region could not be established by UN fiat. It can be agreed to only among the existing parties.

A glance at the topography of the region suggests that Israel may not be able to defend itself if a return to pre-1967 borders were agreed to without concessions. At the end of 1966, Israel shared a border with a state administered by Jordan that prevailed over East Jerusalem including the Old City. It is difficult to imagine that any democratically elected government in Israel would agree to an antebellum situation that could see Hamas on Israel’s doorstep.

Australia’s decision to vote in agreement with the US in the Security Council on the Jordanian resolution is not an example of Tony Abbott slavishly following Obama. Not at all. Australia has been a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Also, the policy has been essentially bipartisan.

Australia’s support for Israel started when Labor’s Ben Chifley was prime minister. It continued after December 1949 under the Coalition prime ministers Robert Menzies, Harold Holt, John Gorton and William McMahon. Gough Whitlam was not as friendly to Israel as his predecessors, but his government lasted only three years. Malcolm Fraser is one of Israel’s most high-profile critics. But he did not manifest such a position during his nearly eight years as prime minister. Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were supportive of Israel, as was John Howard. Kevin Rudd essentially continued this position, as did Julia Gillard.

Viewed in this light, the position taken by the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister reflects established policy. Moreover, it makes good sense.

It is fashionable among the left intelligentsia in the West to blame Israel for all the problems in the Middle East. However, the appalling civil war in Syria, which has seen about 200,000 Muslims killed by other Muslims, has nothing to do with Israel. Currently, authorities in Jerusalem want to see reconstruction in Gaza following Israel’s recent war with Hamas aimed at destroying missile sites and attack tunnels on the Israel-Gaza border. Neither Egypt nor the PA is supportive of this proposal, due to the hostility of the governments in Cairo and Ramallah to Hamas.

It is likely that the tension in the Middle East, as it affects Israel, will continue for some time. A long-term settlement seems a long way off. But this does not suggest a war between Israel and the Palestinians as depicted by O’Connor.

About 20 per cent of Israel’s population is made up of Muslims and Christians. Both groups enjoy full democratic rights. What’s more, as Arab-Israeli citizen Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out in The Australian yesterday, there is a lack of democracy in the PA areas on the West Bank — particularly with reference to female critics of Abbas.

While in Israel, I visited the Ziv hospital close to the Lebanese-Syrian borders, where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and other minorities work together. Here, Melbourne-born doctor Michael Harari looks after victims of the Syrian civil war who have been brought to the hospital by the Israel Defence Force. There were adult male and child victims. According to Harari, no one asks details about the patients. They receive the best attention possible. At the Ziv hospital, there is no war between Israelis and Palestinians or, indeed, Syrians. It’s a symbol of hope in a troubled region.