A lot of awful things can happen in a week

Jun 13, 2024
epa11402884 Ambassadors of the Security Council vote in favor of the draft resolution on a ceasefire in Gaza during a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 10 June 2024. The council ultimately passed a resolution by the United States that supports a plan presented by US President Joe Biden for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict. EPA/SARAH YENESEL

President Biden has now announced a ‘roadmap’ for Gaza that has been doing the rounds for weeks, and Australia has loyally supported it with a contribution of $A10 million. But much more time, money, and negotiations will be needed if the three-stage plan is to be a success.

It would have done Prime Minister Albanese no harm to have co-signed a statement issued on 6 June by his counterparts in 17 European, Latin American, Asian, and Nordic countries calling urgently for Israel and Hamas to agree to the plan. Unreported in Australia, the list included the US, UK, and France – where all their leaders are preparing for elections – but not Australia or New Zealand. This despite the fact that Penny Wong and her fellow Canadian and New Zealand foreign ministers issued a joint statement in December calling for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’, and again in January for Israel to allow humanitarian support to reach the Palestinians. These were ignored, as was another in February deploring the assault on Rafah. In May, Australia was among the majority in the UN General Assembly voting for upgraded status for Palestine, but has still not joined the six Western nations – and many others – that now recognise the Palestinian state, even though that remains ALP policy.

So why the ongoing delay? A lot of awful things can happen in a short time. In a week, deaths in Gaza rose to 37 000. Four Israeli hostages were released in an operation that Hamas reported cost some 270 Palestinian lives and more than 700 injuries, the deaths increasing with a medical system already unable to cope. If Canberra’s silence reflected an effort to reach decisions independently from Washington, that would set a rare precedent. Rather, politics, the media, and Australia’s next election, are always foremost in governments’ minds in Canberra as elsewhere: they are more compelling, it seems, than Australia being complicit in potential genocide, in contributing to the worst humanitarian crisis in living memory, and even the prospect of our leaders being accused of war crimes: more persuasive than Australia’s national interests, and much public opinion.

Compare our two current wars. When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Australia was quick to call President Putin a war criminal, to impose sanctions on Russia, and to send military support to Ukraine, rising to $A100 million in April this year alone. Australian aid to Ukraine now amounts to $A1 billion with no end in sight. On 7 October, in the Hamas outbreak, 1200 Israelis were killed and 230 taken hostage. For this, Israel’s retaliation sets a new benchmark for asymmetric warfare. While the Israel Defence Force responded with military force, bombs, missiles, and drones, Australia at once suspended aid to UNWRA in Gaza. Reports by foreign media that showed some, at least, of Israel’s accusations against Hamas and UNWRA to be false, came too late. To her credit but without apology, Minister Wong resumed it in March together with an additional $A6 million. Australia has now greeted Biden’s plan with $A10 million in aid to Gaza through to the World Food Program. Australia’s total aid to the Palestinians since October amounts to $A72.5 million. But remember: more than a billion from Australia for Ukraine.

Australian companies have continued, we now learn, to buy and sell weapons and weapons systems from and to Israel. Australian ministers’ accounts of these operations and their dates are conflicting. Their American counterparts, of course, see both Israel and Ukraine – despite one being the invader and the other invaded – as great sites to demonstrate the weapons they continue to supply at enormous cost to US taxpayers, while not in US lives. The pier hurriedly constructed by the US military off the Gaza coast, supposedly to enable aid to reach the Palestinians by sea rather than by land, is reported to be enabling deliveries of weapons and military equipment to the IDF. Meanwhile, Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation now proposes installing an automated SafeGates system to manage aid deliveries at the entry points to Gaza.

With weekly protests continuing in Australian cities for and against the war in Gaza, and division widening across the country, the government has held back from nominating Israeli leaders as war criminals to the International Criminal Court. Nor has Australia acted in compliance with the finding of the International Court of Justice to prevent genocide by Israel against the Palestinians. The much-applauded unanimity that greeted Biden’s new ‘roadmap’ in the UN Security Council (with Russia abstaining) was achieved only because the US, at last, didn’t veto it. But Israel has a long history of disdain for the UN and, after ignoring such agreements in the past, blaming the other side for breaching them. Prime Minister Netanyahu shares with Biden a determination to retain power, whatever it takes, and up to now, the lives of thousands of Palestinians are what it takes.

Meanwhile the Palestinian said to have the greatest potential to lead a Palestinian state, Marwan Barghouti, has been jailed in Israel since 2002 as a terrorist. ‘Terrorism’ has no internationally-agreed definition. Australia should have been less supine and more circumspect on declaring Hezbollah, Hamas, and now Houthi as terrorists, when the militarists we keep supporting in making those declarations might themselves deserve the label.

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