Australia’s foolish and embarrassing silence over Israel’s annexation plans

What an absurd, paradoxical situation. The Australian Government pursued a very public campaign against China over Covid-19. Yet regarding Israel’s plan to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank – the government has lost its tongue.

Credit – Unsplash

When the adults took over the conversation about Covid-19 at the World Health Assembly in May, the result was much the same as if Australia had kept its mouth shut. The WHA resolution called for a comprehensive evaluation at the “earliest appropriate moment” of the handling of Covid-19 and for greater international co-operation. Australian activism had an impact, but only in exacerbating an already tense bilateral relationship with China.

Australia’s posturing over Covid-19 contrasts sharply with its deafening silence over Israel’s annexation plans, a keen subject of official and other comments around the globe. Given Australia’s close ties with the main actors, Israel and the US, its voice might actually be heard in Jerusalem and Washington. The government seems to have mixed up its policies: wait-and-see should have been used on Covid-19, not annexation.

Plus61JMedia has contacted Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office by email and phone on several occasions, seeking comment on Israel’s annexation plans. No response was forthcoming. However, when approached by Plus61JMedia, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong publicly criticised annexation, arguing that it would “weaken the viability of any future Palestinian state … and risk destabilising Israel’s neighbours”.

Those neighbours are deeply upset. Following a virtual conference, Arab League Foreign Ministers issued a joint statement declaring that annexation would amount to a “new war crime” against the Palestinians. Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, described annexation as an “unprecedented threat to peace,” which would make the two-state solution impossible and institutionalised apartheid “an inevitability”. Annexation would “not go unanswered”.

The Palestinian Authority has warned it will declare a state on the June 1967 borders and end-all security and other cooperation with Israel. That may not worry Israel especially, given its stranglehold over trade and financial flows to the Palestinians.

But a public warning by the UAE’s ambassador to the US that annexation would “upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with the UAE” is bad news for Israel’s warming relationship with Gulf states, aimed in part at containing Iran.

If Australia is hesitant to take its lead from the Middle East region, there are plenty of other respectable voices to use as a guide.

The EU’s senior foreign affairs representative, Josep Borrell, commented in mid-May that international law was a fundamental pillar of the rules-based order. EU member states would “not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders unless agreed by Israelis and Palestinians”. Borrell added that a “two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the future capital for both states, is the only way to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the region”.

During a recent visit to Israel, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, reportedly warned Netanyahu that some EU states might impose sanctions and possibly recognise a Palestinian state if Israel went ahead with annexation.

Germany will have a high-wire act from next month. Taking over the rotating presidency of both the Council of the European Union and the UN Security Council on July 1, it will need to balance its important bilateral relationship with Israel with its commitment to upholding international law. July 1 is also Netanyahu’s declared starting date for annexation.

The UK has important trade and strategic ties with Israel, the first country with whom it signed a post-Brexit trade continuity agreement. Nonetheless, the UK has made clear its opposition to annexation. Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said in January that any unilateral move would be contrary to international law. This position was restated in May by the UK minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly.

A letter sent to Prime Minister Johnson by a group of prominent Israeli public figures, including former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, noted that as foreign secretary Johnson said in a 2017 interview, “you have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system”.

It might seem a bit rich that Russia – under sanction itself for the annexation of Crimea, for which it has used similar historical justifications as Israel – has commented on the perils of Israeli ambitions in the West Bank. Undeterred, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, has described possible Israeli annexation as very dangerous. It would end the prospect of a two-state solution, would most likely “provoke a new round of violence in Palestine” and further inflame the “acute discontent of the Arab street”.

Israel’s strongest ally is, of course, the United States. Under Donald Trump, it has ignored the strictures of international law as they apply to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights. During a brief visit to Israel in mid-May, Secretary of State Pompeo said that the incoming Israeli government under Netanyahu had “the right and the obligation” to decide if and how it wants to apply sovereignty in the West Bank.

Netanyahu and his backers can only hope that Trump will win a second term later this year. His prospective Democratic rival, Joe Biden, has publicly declared he will reverse US support for West Bank annexation.

Canada has also been a strong supporter of Israel. Possibly with an eye on Arab votes in this month’s election to a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now deplored West Bank annexation and stressed Canadian support for a two-state solution. Canada’s two rivals for a Security Council seat, Ireland and Norway, have both made clear their opposition to annexation.

Closer to home there are also examples for Australia to follow. One of them, ironically, is China, which is “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plan. Another is Indonesia, whose Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, spoke directly to Secretary of State Pompeo, urging the US “to prevent Israel from carrying out its plan”.

Writing in Haaretz in early May, Guy Ziv from the American University’s School of International Servicecalled for pressure from Israel’s friends, particularly in the US, to avert the “looming disaster” of annexation. By speaking out, Israel’s friends could help preserve its peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, its relationship with the Palestinian Authority, and a two-state solution that would end the occupation and preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.

They all sound like goals that Australia could enthusiastically support. It is in the first rank of Israel’s friends. That makes Australian silence over annexation all the more foolish and embarrassing.

First published on 16 June 2020 in Plus61J Media.

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Peter Rodgers is a former Australian ambassador to Israel who has written two books on the Middle East, Herzl’s Nightmare – one land two peoples and Arabian Plights – the future Middle East

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7 Responses to Australia’s foolish and embarrassing silence over Israel’s annexation plans

  1. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    I don’t understand why the EU has not already recognise Palestine as a separate state.

  2. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    I doubt Israel pays much attention to the warnings listed above.
    The Arab League Foreign Ministers talk of an unprecedented threat to peace – what peace? They also point out that any annexation would institutionalize apartheid, as if that hasn’t been the way of things in Israel for decades.
    Germany says it might impose sanctions and might recognize a Palestinian state, but I doubt they do either.
    The Johnson UK government talks of international law and the need for a two-state solution, and this after watching and benefiting from the destruction of Jeremy Corbyn by the UK Jewish lobby.
    As for the US, it is in the nature of a parasite to suck all the life out of its host. What remains of the US is a good example of what happens when a devouring parasite is allowed to dominate.
    Canada, Australia and NZ are hard-wired into both Five Eyes and what has become known as the Anglo/Zionist empire. Expect some pro forma objections but little to nothing of substance. Certainly nothing to worry Israel in its quest for a unified and Palestinian-free state between the river and the sea.
    We too are hosting a parasite.

  3. Avatar Rory McGuire says:

    Although the US is a mighty ally of Israel Israel is not an ally of the US, although it promotes itself as such.
    Israel routinely treats the US with disdain or contempt, manipulates it, steals from it, and generally ignores US interests in the Middle East. The US cannot call on Israeli help, eg in the US invasion of Iraq, for fear of infuriating other allies such as Saudi, Egypt, Jordan etc and widening any conflict.
    With its pursuit of “facts on the ground” Israel is steadily manoeuvring itself into a geographically and politically untenable position. The strangest thing, as Amb. Rodgers suggests, is why Australia, the US and anyone else supposedly supporting Israel would encourage Israel to head down this impossible path. Are we looking at some weird manifestation of anti-Semitism that we cannot talk about?

  4. Avatar Simon Sedgley says:

    Peter Rodgers advocates that Australian diplomacy should aim to “preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character”. About 2.7 million people in the occupied West Bank are subject to daily, aggressive and intrusive control over pretty much every aspect of their lives by the Israeli Government. Do these people have a say in this, let alone the right to vote? No, they do not. The religious establishment in Israel is a deeply embedded part of the state. Freedom of religion? No such thing in Israel. Why, as an Australian citizen, would I want my Government to advocate for such a status quo? Israel is the last colonial state and is constitutionally racist. I have zero interest in seeing it survive in its current manifestation. But of course, ex-ambassador that he is, Mr Rodgers’ only concern in any of this is that Australia not be embarrassed and look lie a fool. And the Palestinian people Mr Rodgers? Disgraceful.

  5. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    An excellent analysis of how Australian politicians – both sides of the divide, generally speaking, – are beholden to the Jewish lobby – free trips (mostly in secret) to Israel – and thenceforth obligation-loaded “loyalty” to the criminal regime led currently by Netanyahu. And by whatever the similarly compromised US Congress members and diplomatic structures ordain. On one point from my wide reading I disagree. The only solution appears to be a one-state solution – a pulling down of the ugly walls criss-crossing old Palestine and a return of stolen lands, houses to their rightful Palestinian owners – and a few statues toppled at the same time.

  6. Avatar Philip Bond says:

    We, Australia have form in annexing land, 230 years plus (as in Israel) destroying any remnants of previous occupation.

  7. Avatar William Collins says:

    Palestine/Israel is a continuing tragedy. Any inspection, no matter how biased or casual, shows Israel as the aggressor. Israel’s biggest income stream is donations from the US. Next comes Israel’s diamond industry, accounting for 1/3rd of GDP. By any definition, including their diamond mines in Africa – these are ‘blood diamonds’. Fascism, religious justification and apartheid appear to be the rationale for Israel’s being. Murder and theft are routinely carried out against a subject Palestinian people while (mostly) a blind eye from the ‘west’ is turned toward the crimes being committed daily.

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