Bob Hawke was long known as a great friend of Israel, but in his years after retiring from Parliament, I came to know him as person increasingly concerned about Palestinian rights and getting a fair peace deal for Palestinians and Israelis.
Then, as Palestinian ambassador and head of delegation, we developed over the last 25 years a decent friendship; we would share a cigar on the balcony of his North Bridge house overlooking the picturesque harbour, where most of our meetings took place, discussing and working on specific issues of concern. Bob used to express immense frustration and disappointment not only with the Israeli government’s persistent human rights’ violations of Palestinians and building of Jewish colonies in the 1967-occupied Palestinian territories but also with the United States’ blind eye and lack of genuine commitment to a just peace.
Building on Gough Whitlam’s implementation of an even-handed policy towards the Israeli Arab conflict in 1972, Bob Hawke’s government reviewed Australia’s Middle East policy. The review announced by Foreign Minister Bill Hayden on 30 September 1983 recognised the central importance of the Palestinian issue for any settlement, a role for the Palestine Liberation Organisation in any peace process and acknowledged the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. It also called on Israel to freeze its settlement program in the 1967-occupied territories, because the settlements are “contrary to international law and a significant obstacle to peace efforts”. At the time this was more advanced position than many European countries.
Following the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) in 1987 and the PLO peace initiative in November 1988, Hawke’s government recognised the PLO in March 1989.
In a speech celebrating former Soviet Union refuseniks in Melbourne on 17 May 1988 Bob compared the struggle of the Palestinian people with the Jew in the Soviet Union and the black in South Africa saying “The Palestinian in the occupied territories, as the Jew in the Soviet Union and the black in South Africa has his aspirations to be fully free.” A point he stressed again, decades later, in an article he wrote in the Australian Financial Review titled Time to recognise the state of Palestine on 14 February 2017.
From the early days of Benjamin’s Netanyahu’s prime ministership of Israel, Bob realised Netanyahu was not part of the solution, telling me in 1996 that “This f…ing Netanyahu does not want peace”.
The Guardian reported Hawke as saying, “I think that President Obama has been inadequate in terms of using his influence and that of the United States in trying to bring together the Israelis and Palestinians.”
When all Arab governments agreed to a peace initiative at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League in March 2002, Israel did not only respond by refusing the Arab peace initiative, but its prime minister General Ariel Sharon’s response to the Arabs’ outstretched hand for peace was to order his army to reoccupy Palestinian cities and surround and bombard President Arafat’s headquarters.
Bob was furious; he expressed to me his wish to break the siege and go and meet with Arafat and asked me to arrange that; and despite the wrath and objection of the Israeli government he met with Arafat on 24 September 2003.
From then onwards, Bob worked hard and travelled around the world to gain Australian, American, European and Asian support for an economic plan to help build the Palestinian economy, similar to the Marshall Plan. He spoke with John Howard, Alexander Downer, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroder of Germany, and many others.
He also tried to build a technical school in Gaza as a gift from the Australian people to the Palestinians to help them rebuild their economy, in which the ACTU would organise volunteer technicians and teachers. The project was supported by the Palestinian Authority which allocated land that was inspected by deputy prime minister Tim Fischer during a visit to Palestine in March 1997; but the Howard government would not provide the five million dollars needed for the school.
Ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2017 visit to Australia, Bob called on the Australian government to recognise the state of Palestine in his article published in the Australian Financial review. He wrote “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.”
Ali Kazak is a former Palestinian ambassador. He is an expert in Australian-Arab relations and affairs, and author of “Australia and the Arabs” (in Arabic) and editor of the book Jerusalem, from occupation to city of peace (in English).