Faced with an Israeli Pariah, Wong decides on Palestinian statehood

May 10, 2024
Penny Wong - DFAT official photo

Foreign Minister Penny Wong conveys Australia’s decision on Friday 10 May to the UN General Assembly on whether Palestine should be admitted as a full member. This, after years of conflict over Palestine between Labor and the Coalition, and disagreement within the ALP, is a definitional moment for Australia.

A Palestinian-backed draft resolution seeks to have the UNGA determine ‘that the State of Palestine is, in its judgment, a peace-loving State within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter, is able and willing to carry out the obligations of the Charter, and should therefore be admitted to membership in the United Nations’. Israel is a signatory to the UN Charter, which makes the threat and use of force illegal, so Israel too is apparently a ‘peace-loving state’.

In support of its claim, Hamas has agreed to a three-stage peace process in Gaza, beginning with a 42-day ceasefire. The Netanyahu government has not, and continues attacking Gaza with bombs and missiles. Yet the Israel Defence Force’s continued assault on Rafah has already put Hamas’ agreement in doubt.

In the Hamas outbreak from Gaza on 7 October, 1200 Israelis were killed and 230 taken hostage. The simplest way to a permanent ceasefire is for Palestine to return the remaining hostages, and for Israel to return thousands of Palestinian prisoners. This will keep the tally of dead Palestinians from rising above 34,000 and remove the need for Hamas, which Penny Wong says has no role in a future State of Palestine.

Of the 193 UN member states, 142 support Palestinian statehood, and in the Security Council 12 of the 15 members are in favour, with two abstaining. The United States consistently vetoes pro-Palestine resolutions. When Australia was a non-permanent member, we moved to abstaining under Labor, then under the Coalition reverted to voting against Palestine. Now the same question comes back to haunt us in the General Assembly. The result there is more symbolic than effective, but Australia’s position on this existential issue will affect the influence we have on other decisions and our reputation in other countries.

The Prime Minister has deplored the ‘fraying’ of social cohesion over the issue in Australia. He repeatedly endorses a two-state solution, without explaining how that can be achieved when only one state exists. In a recent standoff, Education Minister Jason Clare correctly said ‘from the river to the sea’ – a slogan used by both Israelis and Palestinians – means different things to different people, while for former Coalition treasurer Josh Frydenberg, ‘from the river to the sea’ refers only to Palestinians’ desire to destroy Israel (Australian, 7 May 2024: 2). He wants Australian universities to shut down pro-Palestinian protest camps where the slogan has been repeated, but doesn’t mention stopping raids by pro-Israelis against them.

With long practice in hasbara (propaganda), Zionists are on the offensive in many countries, invoking the Holocaust, and labelling any critics of Israel’s actions as anti-Semitic.

Both Israel and the United States disparage the UN, and neither of them acknowledges the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the International Criminal Court (ICC). They challenge the ICJ’s finding of potential genocide by Israel, and the ICC’s power and jurisdiction to act against Israeli officials. Legal scholars disagree, stressing that the Courts’ powers are unaffected by Israel not recognising them and not being a signatory to the Rome Statute. The ICC is newly seized of the Palestinian question, and Prosecutor Karim Khan says its staff in The Hague have been threatened and intimidated by supporters of Israel.

For Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, what lawyers and UN member states think matters less than the prospect of him being accused of war crimes. The ICC is considering issuing international arrest warrants for him, some of his ministers and soldiers. Such warrants would be binding on signatory states to which Netanyahu and his colleagues might travel, where they could be detained. An ICC finding of war crimes would also open up the possibility of sanctions against Israel, as well as its US ally. Indictments by the ICC could challenge Netanyahu’s claim that its war on Gaza is legitimate, and cause misgivings to spread among Israel’s allies in Europe.

Germany, Israel’s dedicated supporter, has moved against participants in the ICC’s inquiries. The German Foreign Minister has probably used her current visit to impress Bonn’s views on Penny Wong. Germany recently denied access to Europe by Dr Ghassan Abu Sittar (who is British and Rector of Glasgow University) to address the French Parliament. Greek politician and economist Yanis Varoufakis is threatening to sue the government in Bonn for barring his entry to Germany.

In the US, twelve Republican senators have warned the ICC’s Karim Khan to expect ‘severe sanctions’ if he issues arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other Israelis. Such a move will be interpreted ‘not only as a threat to Israel’s sovereignty but to the sovereignty of the United States’. Netanyahu says it would not affect Israel’s actions but would ‘set a dangerous precedent that threatens soldiers and public figures’. On 1 May, in a three-minute appearance on X, in English, he turned the full force of Israeli hasbara on the ICC, which was trying to frustrate Israel’s right to defend itself. He urged Western supporters of Israel to agree that the IDF, ‘one of the most moral military [sic] in the world’, could not be war criminals while fighting for democratic Israel. The Jewish people, subjected to the Holocaust 80 years ago and the Hamas terrorist attack seven months ago were again being victimised. But Gaza, he declared, would never be able to threaten Israel again.

Salman Shaikh, a former Middle East peace envoy for the UN, tells Al Jazeera (now expelled from Gaza) that ‘the walls are closing in’. By supporting and arming Israel, Western nations are ‘effectively cannibalising’ the international laws which they themselves established. Australians wait to hear how Penny Wong justifies that to the UNGA.

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