The following is a report of an ALP/Union Forum titled A two state solution to the Israel Palestine conflict held at Qld parliament on Remembrance Day, 11th November 2009.
The forum was well attended by about 100 people from unions and by ALP members and people from the community.
There were current and former ALP MLAs and councillors and union officials present. The forum was sponsored by various unions including the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU), Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, Qld Branch (CEPU) and the Plumbers Union.
There were several community and other groups and associations represented including the Qld Palestinian Association (QPA), Just Peace, Justice for Palestine. Members of the National Union of Students and people from the Jewish community and the Foreign Affairs editor of the Courier Mail were also present.
This report was prepared from notes written by the author at the forum. I made a written request well in advance of the forum to record it (on film) but this was refused on the basis that it was a private meeting of ALP and Union members.
I noticed that the foreign editor of the Courier Mail was present and took notes (but not as many as I did). I have tried to faithfully document what was said at the forum. I take responsibility for errors, omissions or misunderstandings. I ask that anyone who has evidence of error to please let me know and I will try to correct them.
The forum discussion was on the following set issues:
• What do we mean by a two state solution?
• How best to achieve it and what are the obstacles?
• What are the consequences if a two state solution fails?
The panel and audience were asked by the chairperson, David Forde, not to stray from this topic.
The policy of the ALP is expressed in a motion that was passed at the recent 2009 National Conference of the ALP: It is “a commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict, based on Israel’s right to live in peace within secure borders, and in recognition of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state. Australia supports a negotiated solution to the conflict consistent with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338”. See Endnote (8).
The panel was:
Senator Claire Moore, Labor Senator for Queensland
Shayne Neumann MP, Federal Member for Blair
Ron Monaghan, Secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions
Ambassador Izzat Abdulhadi, Head of the Palestinian Delegation to Australia, NZ and Pacific
Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
All speakers professed to be in favour of a two state solution. One of the ALP speakers, Shayne Neumann told us that it had been ALP policy since 1947 ever since ALP leader Doc Evatt presided over the UN when it mandated the formation of the state of Israel. This claim went unremarked in the debate that followed. Each speaker was given five minutes to outline their views.
By ballot, Izzat Abdulhadi spoke first. David Forde introduced Izzat by saying that he was born in 1957 in Nablus on the West Bank. He was the founder of the Bisan Center for Research and Development working as an advocate with NGOs and in 2005 became the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia.
Izzat defined the ‘two state solution’ as two states [Palestine and Israel] each with full sovereignty and recognised borders. He spoke about the pre-1967 borders. He mentioned Jerusalem as a stumbling block. Should it be shared by Jews and Muslims? Should it be international? He said that US may be perceived not to be an honest broker and therefore becomes an impediment to a negotiated settlement. He mentioned extremism in the Arab world and a lack of understanding between Israel and Palestinian radicals. He said that this brought about more bloodshed. He mentioned the so called Jordanian option which meant the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank of all Palestinians. A counter to that was the Palestinian call for a unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank. He tried to lay out the obstacles to this solution but, at this point, Izzat’s allotted time was up, he tried to read quickly through the rest of his prepared speech but I [and, I suspect, others] could not pick up what he said. There were sound problems in the hall at this time and at various times during the night.
Shayne Neumann was up next. The chairperson, David Forde, introduced Shayne as the Federal ALP member for Blair who was interested in health care and disability services and was involved in a number of community groups. Neumann said that this was an old CV and that his wife would divorce him if he still was a member of these groups because she would never see him before midnight if he still belonged to them (as well as being a federal member). David Forde said that Neumann had worked at the Dinmore Meatworks and later went on to get a degree in law, economics and government.
Shayne Neumann began by saying that the ALP had always supported the two state solution ever since Doc Evatt(2)was in the UN and voted for Resolution 181 which was the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, setting up the state of Israel. Another prominent ALP leader Arthur Caldwell led 35 thousand Jewish refugees to Israel, he said. He applauded the motion at the recent ALP national conference where Dr Mike Kelly and Warren Mundine recommitted the ALP to a two-state solution by supporting the latest peace initiative and demanding secure borders for Israel. He said that both Deputy Prime Minister Gillard and Foreign Minister Smith in a speech on 19 May 2009 underlined the need for sovereign rights for Israel. He claimed that the ALP had held this same position on Israel for decades. He said that different colonial powers had influenced the region for ‘decades, no millennia’. He was in favour of a viable state in Palestine.
He identified himself as ‘a Christian, not a Jew’. He said that Israel should not expand settlements in the West Bank. He said that Israel needs partners for peace in Gaza and not Hamas which he said that Australia regarded as a ‘terrorist organisation’. He said that we need moderate elements which he said was possible. He referred to a Jordanian accord in 1994 where there were ‘moderate reform elements’. He called on Abu Mazen to stand for election for Palestinian president in January 2010. [ Neumann is referring here to Mahmoud Abbas’s (Abu Mazen) recent statement that he will not be running in the upcoming Palestinian elections.] He said that this is necessary because there should be no coups like that in Gaza and we needed people opposed to Hamas. He said that he had been through the check points and understood the feelings of those who had to also. He said that martyrdom was not a proper vocation’ for young Palestinians.
He read out statistics from Israeli government prepared document about 8,000 rockets being launched from Gaza after Israel withdrew. The document said that 3,000 were launched in 2008. Neumann said that Israel had every right to defend itself. He read out that Palestinians ‘had fired Kassam rockets since Israel’s 100% withdrawal from Gaza’. He quoted numbers and said that the Qassam rocket attacks were carried out in Sderot and elsewhere, that ‘rockets fell on a kindergarten, a synagogue, a school.’
David Forde then introduced the next speaker but before he did said he was the seconder of the Dr Mike Kelly motion at the ALP national conference [It was David Forde who got the ‘two-state solution’ motion to the floor of national (and state and regional) ALP conferences].
The next speaker was Peter Wertheim who said that he supported a two state solution as the only one possible but that it had a long way to go. He said that we should be aware of some basic realities namely that he was talking about land area about half the size of Tasmania and that half of Israel is desert.
The population break down was five million Jews, and about five and a half million Palestinians, Bedouins and others. He said that there were many emotions provoked by this issue and that it was not about religion. He said that there were ‘deeper drivers’ than religion and they were ‘fear and hope’ which were universal to the human experience. There was fear of domination in the same way that Kurds were fearful of domination by the Turks and the Irish by the English. Along with that there was hope that Israelis with a unique language and culture would aspire to be a free people in our own land. He said that this was a universal aspiration and that even though many deride nationalism it is still a real and worthwhile hope.
Wertheim said that the derision is a western attitude coming from people who have never had sovereignty denied them. He said that there should be respect for the government of each group. He suggested that 93% of the West Bank is Palestinian and 7% of the total area be absorbed into Israel. He identified the Temple Mount as a sacred place for the Jews. He said that a handful of the original 1948 refugees remained alive and that a solution had to be found for them. However their children were in a different category and could not expect the same right. He said that water sharing and house demolition were obstacles as was the split between Hamas and Fatah i.e. that the Palestinians did not speak with one voice. He said that we need peace.
The next speaker was Ron Monaghan from the Qld Council of Unions. He said that he believed in the two state solutions with integrity of borders. He tried to take a workers view of the situation for the Palestinians he said that he had plagiarised some facts and opinions. He talked about the occupation since 1949 and that Israel had built 178 settlements that cut through the territory and national identity of the Palestinians. [Far more settlements have actually been built in that time. See Palestine Monitor]
Monaghan said that settlements were continuing to be built. And that the Israeli army supports these settlements. He said that from a ‘workers point of view’ it was hard to see that going in and out of Israel from the West Bank prevented people from going to work. He said that this was a deliberate policy to make West Bank part of Israel. He said that it made Palestinian people dependent on Israel especially when you look at the settlements. This total dependence on Israel for work, electricity and water and with the occupying force closing the border meant that they had no means to live. To have a dependant state like this meant dispossession. It is up to the people with power to change not the dependant people. After the six day war there was military control and this led to a concept of dispossession and a denial of people the right to redress grievances. Since this time the economy had changed from an agrarian to a service economy that was dependent on Israel. The roads were creating Bantustans (3) and that a two state solution was therefore needed.
Claire Moore was next. Claire said that she wished to give her own personal view and that it was not the view of the party or the government however it was the view that she expressed in the (Labor) caucus. She said that she had not visited that part of the world. She re-iterated that it was smaller than Tasmania.
Senator Moore said that she was a 1970s person and was informed by the books of Leon Uris (4) and supported the freedom struggle for Israel. She was deeply impressed by their struggle but when she looked into the issue she became concerned. She said that she came from a human rights perspective and was concerned about attacks on the Palestinian people and lack of human rights. Claire had concerns for the safety and security of Israel. ‘There is a need to create security for everyone under threat. It is difficult because there is lack of open media. Everything is coloured by individuals point of view and this leads to argument that is not the way to … (resolve things?)’
Claire Moore said no one has spoken about what a ‘two state solution’ really means? Since the 1967 boundaries, there have been massive changes in population. Claire referred to the Goldstone report which she said found fault on both sides but that there was a great difference in the numbers killed but that is not the only determinant of what happened – she said – because of ‘the history of what built that up‘. She suggested that Australians use the United Nations better; international media, citizens of Australia need to change and not “throw opinions across the world ... Every now and then the UN votes on how bad it is. Change won’t happen from outside, that approach is guaranteed to fail … People put own views forward and others are the enemy.”
Questions and Answers
Andrew Dittmer, the state President of the ALP was the convenor for questions and answers. David Costello the foreign editor of the Brisbane Courier Mail asked ‘that with respect to the two state solution that the % of the west bank available to Palestinians was more like 50% when you took into account the roads and walls not the 90% suggested in the talk. He said that settlements had annexed parts ‘right through the West Bank’. Peter Wertheim said that Clinton had nearly obtained agreement in a joint statement by Israel and the PLO in 1997 based on 7% of the West Bank being absorbed into Israel. He said that between 50% – 70% do not trust the other side. This is true of Israel because of the rockets fired on Tel Aviv, he said.
Izzat Abdul Hadi said that there was not equality on both sides and that East Jerusalem is excluded from a settlement.
There was a question about the position of Netanyahu(5) as leader of the government being counter to a settlement. Peter Wertheim said that the Palestinian side is divided while there is an Israeli concensus. He said that while there are two groups, Fatah and Hamas, (on the Palestinian side) they are hard to deal with. He said that from his experience of going there and listening to his family and friends that Israel is ready to do a deal but that the Palestinians are not.
One person said that there should be a question about water given that it was the day of the Mary River decision by the federal labor government. What about the water situation for the Palestinians?
Shayne Neumann said that Israel is one of the best water recyclers in the world but that they should allow more water for the Palestinians.
There was a question of Peter Wertheim as to what he meant when he said that Israel be a Jewish State. He said that he was not going to get involved in a polemical discussion and that he had already spelt out what he meant. He said that (Israel be) a secular state, in the non-religious, cultural sense. He said he meant a Hebrew speaking people with their own identity. He was then asked about others who lived in Israel namely Christians, Arabs, and ‘minority groups’. He said that these groups have legal status and some are representatives in the parliament (Knesset). He said that (under a 2 state solution) they (Arabs) have the option of becoming Palestinian citizens. He said that Hebrew language and culture was derived from the same culture as the Arabs.
Annette Brownlie (Nurses Union and Just Peace) asked why Australia did not vote to support the Goldstone Report (6)? Claire Moore said that ‘we do not know‘. Claire Moore said that when she found out she would be letting people know. Shayne Neumann said that the Goldstone Report was unbalanced (concerning Israeli war crimes) and that there were human rights violations on all sides (meaning by Hamas). At this point, Khalil Hamdan, a Palestinian from the town of Nablus, raised his hand to speak as he did on several occasions before and after, However Khalil Hamden was refused permission to speak (he had questioned why he was not invited on the platform), except on one occasion, Khalil said that he was one of the 1948 Palestinian refugees and that they should have the right of return.
Others members of the QPA including their President, Mr Jehad Abu Dabat, tried to get the attention of the chairperson but were not given the call. Khalil Hamden‘s comments were largely ignored. Peter Wertheim said that he would not enter into a polemical debate. The president of QPA was acknowledged briefly at the beginning of the forum by the chairperson. At one point in the forum Mr Abu Dabat got up in protest at Shayne Neumann’s remarks and went to leave. He was urged not to leave by other members of the QPA present at the forum. He stayed but remained standing throughout the remainder of the forum. In contrast to the lack of correct protocol by speakers and chairperson alike, the members of the Qld Palestinian Association remained disciplined throughout.
A member of the National Union of Students asked about the Israeli government’s offer of free trips to Israel to political groups. Peter Wertheim said that there are all sorts of programs available to educate people about Israel and that unions have guided tours of the occupied territories. Ron Monaghan said that Israel had a worldwide network – the Israeli lobby- yet the Palestinians did not have many powerful friends and it was this that dictated the solution. He said that it was up to the powerful to introduce a just solution, the responsibility lay with them.
Jeff Knight from the Plumbers Union said that Shayne Neumann had repeatedly asserted that there was equal blame (in the conflict) on both (Palestinian and Israeli) sides. Jeff asked what could the Israelis do tomorrow to resolve the conflict? He said that Israel could release 10,000 Palestinain prisoners, Israel could allow medicines into Gaza and permit sick people to leave, they could stop building settlements and withdraw from the West Bank. He said that there were a lot of things that Israel could do tomorrow and that there were very few things that the Palestinians could do to solve the conflict.
Shayne Neumann said that Hamas could stop firing Kassam rockets. The members of the QPA present said that they had stopped firing rockets. Shayne Neumann said that the blockade would end if Hamas ‘signed a binding guarantee’ that they would ‘cease smuggling arms and weapons into Gaza’. He appeared to be reading from notes when he said this. Members of the audience said that Hamas were bringing in food and medicines through the tunnels (into Gaza) as well.
There was a final question from a unionist who asked why Shayne Neumann was determined to sound more like the Likud than the Likud itself (7). He asked if the large donations to the Australian Labor Party by the Israeli lobby had anything to do with the ALP’s pro-Israel stance (to much applause from one section of the room). Senator Claire Moore said that in the circumstances it was best that she answer the question. She said that donations to the party have absolutely nothing to do with their policy making, that the two are separate. Shayne Neumann interjected that he would fit comfortably in the Israeli Labour Party.
Andrew Dittmer summarised what was said by the speakers and thanked the panel and the forum was closed and a BBQ was had outside. I did not attend the BBQ.
A supporter of Justice for Palestine
13 November 2009
PS Across the Brisbane River, at the same time as the forum, other supporters of Justice for Palestine protested peacefully against a Music A Viva concert at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. The concert was given by The Jerusalem Quartet which has ties with the Israeli state. Before the concert, the protesters made their own music, singing and playing in tribute to the struggle of the Palestinian people.
(1) Israel, armed by the US, occupied Palestinian and neighbouring lands in Syria, Egypt and Jordan during the six day war in 1967.
(2) Dr H V Evatt was deputy prime minister in ALP Chifley government in 1947 and was later elected President of the United Nations on September 21st 1948. See H.V. Evatt and the establishment of Israel: the undercover Zionist
(3) A bantustan, black African homeland or simply homeland, was territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia), as part of the policy of apartheid.
(4) Leon Marcus Uris (August 3, 1924 – June 21, 2003) was an American novelist, known for his historical fiction. His two bestselling books were Exodus, published in 1958, and Trinity, in 1976. In the early 1950s, he was hired by Edward Gottlieb, an American public relations man seeking to improve Israel’s image in the United States, to write a novel about Israel’s origin that portrayed Israel in a favourable light.
(5) Benjamin Netanyahu (born 1949), Prime Minister of Israel 1996–1999, and again from March 31, 2009.
(6) Head of the UN Fact Finding Mission Justice Richard Goldstone presented the report of the Mission to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 29 September 2009, urging the Council and the international community as a whole to put an end to impunity for violations of international law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/FactFindingMission.htm
(7) Likud (Hebrew: הליכוד HaLikud, lit. The Consolidation) is the major center-right political party in Israel. It was founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin in an alliance with several right-wing and liberal parties. Likud’s victory in the 1977 elections was a major turning point in the country’s political history, marking the first time the left had lost power. Following the 2009 elections, the party appears to have mostly recovered from its losses in the 1990s, and now leads the Israeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu.
(8) “Entrenched behind UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, Australia had supported subsequent UN Resolutions on the welfare of Palestinian refugees while casting an abstention vote or opposing those which dealt with political matters. The findings of successive enquiries by the Federal Parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence were sympathetic towards Israel and silent on the national aspirations of the Palestinians.” — Pierre Hutton Australian diplomat to Lebanon in 1975.
Contact with the Palestinians by Labor leaders did not occur officially even when Labor regained government in 1983. “The Arab League could set up an office in Australia but, added the Minister (Bowen), not with anyone on its staff who was a member of the PLO. The Government, in formulating Middle East policy under Prime Minister Hawke, still needed to ascribe the greater importance to the chances of “dissension” in Australia.” from The Legacy of Suez by Pierre Hutton
The Legacy of Suez by Pierre Hutton