The view from Billinudgel

Two states of mind
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia drew attention to a growing consensus in the Labor Party


For most Australians, the ceremonial visit of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was probably something of a non-event.

The aficionados were enthused, of course, and there were opposing demonstrations too. But the wider populace’s imagination was not captivated.

Within the body politic, however, there were more serious implications, especially in the Labor Party. The push for recognition of a separate Palestinian state has now reached the stage that it cannot and will not be denied. This gives the Coalition a mighty weapon with which to unite the Jewish community’s vote in its favour, and deny Labor an important resource.

The push for a two-state solution is no longer confined to Labor’s Left; it has spread across all factions, and is seriously resisted only by an increasingly desperate minority. Now that the likes of Bob Hawke, Gareth Evans, Bob Carr and Kevin Rudd – previously staunch advocates of Israel and all more or less aligned to the Right – have gone public, the likes of Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and hardliners such as Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby can only fight a rearguard action. This leaves them vulnerable to being seen as standing in the way of history’s tide.

Netanyahu himself took the apostates on, suggesting that they were really arguing for a terrorist Islamic state beside Jerusalem. But of course they were not. As Evans among others explained, any Palestinian state would have to accept Israel’s right to exist and guarantee peace across its borders.

This may be a fair way into the future, but the idea was that recognition would encourage change, while the status quo simply frustrates it. And the consensus is emerging that Netanyahu is the biggest obstacle to progress: his intransigence, stubbornness and provocations have not only stymied a two-state solution – still the overwhelming goal from the rest of the world – but they’ve also made it impossible for either the Palestinians or any honest broker to negotiate.

The biggest hurdles, of course, are the settlements. Not even Israel’s staunchest defenders can justify these encroachments. They either ignore them or claim they don’t really matter. But quite clearly the settlements do matter, or they would not have caused such resentment and backlash. This is not simply anti-Israel prejudice or, worse, anti-Semitism, as is often claimed – the fight is with the Netanyahu government, not the Israeli people. Most of the world would like to be rid of Donald Trump, but that does not mean they are anti-American – the reverse, in fact. And the polls in Australia suggest a majority of voters would like the Turnbull government defeated, but they are hardly anti-Australian. Tony Abbott tried that trick with his invention of “Team Australia” – pretending that if you weren’t on his team, you were somehow unpatriotic. It didn’t work for him and all the signs suggest it is no longer working for Netanyahu.

Turnbull is happy to maintain the long-held policy of seldom if ever criticising Israel. He hopes to drive a wedge between his Labor opponents. But perhaps the two nations are not quite as chummy as they used to be. While Turnbull affectionately called his friend “Bibi”, Netanyahu failed to respond with his counterpart’s nickname, “Trumble”.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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