Australia left isolated as neighbours demand protection of civilians at UNGA

Oct 29, 2023
Results of voting by General Assembly on resolution on Israel-Palestinian conflict at UN Headquarters in New York on October 27, 2023. GA adopted the resolution sponsored by Jordan. Draft resolution sponsored by Jordan on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory was adopted by General Assembly with 120 votes in favour, 14 against, and 45 abstentions. Image:AAP/ Lev Radin/Sipa USA

Many Australians will be ashamed that our nation has failed to speak and vote unequivocally at the United Nations during this crisis. As a nation we cannot continue to pretend that Israel has “a right to defend itself” while Palestine has no such right and is being systematically destroyed.

A two-day debate in support of a Ceasefire and Humanitarian Aid for Gaza held at the United Nations Emergency Special Session on Friday resulted in overwhelming support from the global community. President of the General Assembly Mr. Francis opened the debate reminding all nations “their preeminent priority must be to protect and save civilian lives.”

The vote was significant in upholding the fundamental principle that all nations are responsible for complying with international law as developed by the United Nations and International Criminal Court.

The result: 102 Yes. 14 No. 45 Abstentions.

Sadly, Australia was one country to abstain. But some recognition should be accorded to those who patiently negotiating behind the scenes to avoid Australia giving in to United States and Israeli governments, which deny the centrality of the United Nations Charter in all aspects of international relations.

Australia refused to back this humanitarian UN resolution, unlike our neighbours New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Countries which are proud to assert their commitment to the protection of innocent civilians. Instead, Australia chose to compromise along with Canada, Japan, Britain and several nations juggling their strategic priorities and loyalties.

Australia has an unfortunate history of prevarication in such debates. Diplomats representing the Albanese government now understand that our current foreign policy is one of tension because its leadership team wants to manage abiding loyalty to the United States with a more pragmatic approach to our regional place in the Asia Pacific region. Instead of asserting Australia’s total commitment to the United Nations and international law, our government hides from principle and tries to find an acceptable way to demonstrate some limited concern.

As the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony Albanese must surely have conflicted emotions about his government’s current foreign policy direction. He has enthusiastically embraced a “no wedge” foreign policy, adopting the AUKUS deal developed by his predecessor Scott Morrison. But does he value the example set by Labor icons, who have defined the way Australia as an independent middle power should lead international debate and best practice?

In 1943 Prime Minister, John Curtin defied British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to bring Australian troops back from the Middle East to support the war in the Pacific.

In 1945 Foreign Minister H.C. Evatt, together with Jessie Street were significant contributors in San Francisco when the United Nations was created.

Tom Uren, that giant of the 1970s Australian Peace Movement based on his experience close to Hiroshima as a Japanese prisoner of war, inspired many Australians to join the Anti-Vietnam War campaign.

Gough Whitlam initiated dialogue with China and brought Australian troops home from Vietnam.

Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating as well as Foreign Ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr continued this great tradition identifying Australia as a nation committed to peaceful resolution of conflict.

Today we see just how seriously Australian independence and foresight has been undermined. Recent statements by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Ambassador to the United States, Kevin Rudd remind us that they want Australia to be ‘rock solid” with the United States.  This depressing subservience coincides with the failure of President Biden to support international law. Is it wise for Australia to be associated with such disregard for global community opinion?

As parliament resumes there will be the opportunity for both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to explain to the Australian public why our government is so nervous about calling unconditionally for humanitarian relief for civilians in Gaza. Their decisions should not be based on current political alliances, but rather the urgency for action to stop violence.

Many Australians will be ashamed that our nation has failed to speak and vote unequivocally at the United Nations during this crisis.

As a nation we cannot continue to pretend that Israel has “a right to defend itself” while Palestine has no such right and is being systematically destroyed.

Both Hamas and the Israeli Government are guilty of committing war crimes and no amount of posturing can change this judgement by the global community.

What does the Australian Government do now and how should parliamentarians respond?

Will the parliament initiate its own Emergency Special Session to try to put forward realistic ways Australia can commit to greater humanitarian relief?

Will parliamentarians research the judgement of the U.S Center for Constitutional Rights, which has warned:

“The United States and U.S citizens including and up to the president can be held responsible for their role in furthering genocide” (Consortium News 27 October,2023).

Or will political debate be loud and accusatory, but pointless in providing a way forward for Australia to contribute to a Middle East solution.

In deciding how Australian parliamentarians will respond, they should heed the words of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Secretary General, Madeline Rees who wrote to all Ministries and Permanent Missions at the United Nations detailing their international law obligations, and setting down their responsibilities:

“When an elderly Israeli Jewish woman can hold the hand of a Palestinian member of Hamas, her captor and say “Shalom”, those charged with upholding the Charter of the United Nations to “save future generations from the scourge of war” must listen.

We, the peoples of the United Nations demand no less. There must be peace “

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