GEORGE BROWNING. The Jerusalem Embassy thought bubble.

Oct 17, 2018

To contemplate moving the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to shore up the chances of the Liberal candidate for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, is a small but very significant example of what is horribly wrong with Australian politics and why so few Australians now have any trust in the political process. That the Prime Minister denies any connection between the thought bubble and the weekend byelection stretches credulity and pokes fun at the electorate’s intelligence. What is it about our present government that it would even contemplate such a course?  Please Mr Morrison you can do better than this, Australia certainly deserves better than this.

Dave Sharma’s partisan support for Israel while Ambassador, and his seeming contempt for Palestinian rights, is best illustrated when as Australian Ambassador he met the Israeli minister for Jewish expansionist settlements, in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem being notionally a core component of a hoped-for Palestinian State, it is hard to imagine a more inflammatory action.  Mr Morrison claims that this latest thought bubble has arisen because of a conversation with Dave Sharma.  Would it not have been more appropriate to seek advice from DFAT, or perhaps the current Ambassador to Israel? Why would you take advice from someone who is on the record as behaving in a counter-productive manner to the flagging peace process?  Of course such a move  would have the most severe consequences for Australia’s espoused two-state policy – it would be an admission of its end.  Then Mr Morrison, with what policy are you intending to replace it?

This thought bubble also needs to be set within the context of the most bullish behaviour ever seen from an Israeli government, supported by the most bullish and irrational US president in history.

The US and Israel are pushing inexorably towards their imposed ‘final’ solution on the Palestinian people. Is it our intention to be unthinkingly aligned? Warming up to this solution they have:
.     Discredited and defunded UNRWA to squash any possibility of a right of return and in the process left thousands of children in refugee camps without schooling.
.     Discredited and defunded the Palestinian Authority on the spurious and unproven   grounds that monies have been used to support terrorism.
.     Passed a State law which entrenches inferior citizenship on non-Jews in Israel.
.     Made Jewish outpost settlement on the West Bank legal.
.     Continued to demolish Palestinian homes and in some cases entire villages.
.     Escalated the building of Settlements in the Palestinian territories.

In the light of this behaviour we wish to reward Israel?   These are values we share?

But there is an even broader and potentially more catastrophic context in which Palestine and Palestinians are but dispensable pawns.  The two great Middle Eastern powers are Saudi Arabia and Iran, both desperate to extend their spheres of influence and counter the influence of the other.  That Iran exercises influence through Hamas  and Hezbollah should not be a reason to punish the entire Palestinian  civilian population who simply want to live as others live, in freedom and relative prosperity. We are choosing to unequivocally side with Saudi Arabia in this struggle, largely because of Israel.  It is not surprising therefore that Mr Morrison raised his other thought bubble of withdrawal of support for the Iran treaty in the same breath.

Israel cannot achieve its expansionist goals at the expense of the Palestinian people without the support of the house of Saud.  In the past the US has always been best friends with Saudi Arabia because of its oil dependence.  That is presumably the reason why following the 2001 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre conducted by Saudi terrorists, no meaningful action was taken against Saudi Arabia, instead a disastrous war was fought in Iraq.  Oil dependency is no longer as acute. Now the house of Saud and its Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the US and its Crown Prince (Jared Kushner), are best friends because of Israel and its ambitions.

But, being best friends with Saudi Arabia requires a certain moral amnesia.

·         It appears almost certain that Saudi Arabia has killed the journalist Jamal Khashaggi in its Istanbul embassy for daring to be critical of its royal family and perhaps threatening to reveal past skeletons.
·         Saudi Arabia is an oppressive society with severe human rights violations
·         Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a brutal civil war in Yemen in which atrocities against civilians have occurred with impunity.
·         Wahhabism, the theological underpinning of movements such as ISIS has its origins in Saudi Arabia.
·         Saudi Arabia funds Madras throughout the world, including our neighbour Indonesia, from which hundreds, thousands, of young minds are radicalised.
·         Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens.

History tells us that picking winners and losers is a very fraught business. Why are we picking Saudi Arabia against Iran and Israel against Palestine? We know that ‘winning and losing’ is deeply rooted in the Trump DNA.  He cannot think outside this paradigm. But we join him on this path at our peril. The treaty of Versailles should be a sufficient history lesson to teach that  creating losers totally undermines ‘winning’.

We should be doing all we can to support policies that allow for the dignity and prosperity of both Iran and Saudi Arabia while calling both equally to account for the human right violations of their own people.   We are currently a long way from this position. Were we to walk away from the Iran deal we would be dangerously backing one side in a power struggle and thus escalating the risk. (Apparently we already have a non-transparent arms deal with Saudi Arabia).

Similarly with Israel and Palestine: to so obviously reward bad behaviour on the part of Israel and act to destroy hope and dignity to the 5 million+ Palestinian people  is to strengthen a tinderbox of frustration and hopelessness from which violence is the only guaranteed outcome.

Mr Morrison, let Australia be known as a country that treats all humans with the same dignity, that believes removal of oppression to be as necessary for the oppressor as for the oppressed, and that believes people with difference cannot only live together harmoniously, but are all richer because of it.  Let us be known as a people who support peace in the Middle East and justice for the Palestinian people, not at the expense of Israel but because this is in Israel’s best interest too.

George Browning was formerly the Anglican bishop of Canberra and Goulburn.

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