Politics Analysis

Conservative support for Netanyahu harms any prospect of peace

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (image by World Economic Forum via Flickr)

Conservatives that push simplistic narratives to shut down debate on Israel and Palestine are harming the very people they claim to support, writes Adrian McMahon.

IN THE AUSTRALIAN DEBATE on the complex issue of Israel and Palestine, one thing is clear — Australia’s conservatives are only on the side of Israel.

At the 2022 Election, the Liberal Party’s platform talked about defending Israel and made no mention of Palestine. This was in contrast to the Labor Party’s platform, which stated that it supports both Israel and Palestine to exist as two states. In the years prior, two Liberal prime ministers ensured Australia did not join United Nations resolutions condemning Israel’s activities in the West Bank and a third controversially recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In recent months, Liberal Leader Peter Dutton has continued the one-sided approach through multiple expressions of support for Israel. In relation to Palestine, he said giving Palestinians a visa to Australia would be a "catastrophic outcome". Dutton has called for action against antisemitism, but has failed to do likewise on Islamophobia, despite significant rises in both antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents.

Simplifying the narrative to shut down debate

As part of its one-sided support, a common conservative tactic is to conflate the people of Israel and Palestine with each of their so-called leaders and representatives. In doing so, conservatives can more easily claim on the one hand, that any criticisms of the Israeli Government are antisemitic slurs against all Jewish people and on the other hand, that support for the Palestinian people equals support for Hamas.

This rhetoric has come from various conservative media commentators and has led to ridiculous demands from conservative politicians, such as calling for an MP to condemn his son for attending a pro-Palestinian protest, and arguing that the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine group be disbanded. Federal Liberal MP Julian Leeser even claimed the entire Greens Party is antisemitic.

When conservatives conflate criticism of the Israeli Government with antisemitism, they are helped by the fact that Israel is the only Jewish-majority country, so it often becomes the default representative of the world’s Jewish communities. Given antisemitism and persecution of Jews is prevalent throughout history, criticism of the sole Jewish state is understandably a sensitive area.

When conservatives conflate the Palestinian people with Hamas, they are assisted by a high level of ignorance in Australia of Muslims and Middle Eastern communities. This has particularly been an issue since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks thrust Muslims into the global spotlight.

Conflating the people with their supposed leaders and representatives, and shouting "antisemitism" and "Hamas" loudly and often, is an attempt to control the narrative and shut down opposing arguments. It is an understandable debating tactic; however, it also shows a dismal unwillingness to understand nuance, both in the complexities of Israel and Palestine and in the differences between a governing body and its people.

Blind support for Israel fails the Israeli people

Australia’s conservatives may think that blind support for the Israeli Government helps the Israeli people, but this is false. The actions of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been Prime Minister of Israel for almost all of the last 15 years, have significantly harmed the peace and security of not only the Palestinians but also the Israelis.

It is well known that Netanyahu has presided over land annexations and Jewish settler oppression in the West Bank, and a 16-year land, sea and air blockade of Gaza that denied its 2 million inhabitants adequate access to goods and services such as water, electricity and fuel.

What is less known, but has received increasing coverage recently, is that Netanyahu also actively helped Hamas in the years before their 7 October terrorist attack. This is despite the fact that Hamas has consistently attacked Israel since its inception in the 1980s.

Netanyahu’s strategy was to strengthen Hamas in Gaza "in order to weaken the Palestinian Authority" in the West Bank and, therefore, stop the Palestinians from uniting and pushing for statehood.

Netanyahu has never supported a two-state solution and instead wants ‘full Israeli security control’ from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

He said to his party members in 2019:

"Anyone who wants to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state needs to support strengthening Hamas."

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said that when Gaza was on the brink of financial collapse – and the Palestinian Authority refused to help Hamas – Netanyahu struck a deal.

Olmert argues that:

‘[Netanyahu] made a deal with Qatar and they started to move millions and millions of dollars to Gaza'.

In 2018, photos of suitcases full of cash going from Qatar to Hamas, through Israel, became public.

Then Minister for Defence, Avigdor Liberman, resigned his post over the policy, saying the payments marked ‘the first time Israel is funding terrorism against itself’. Gadi Eisenkot, former military Chief of Staff, said that Netanyahu’s approach was 'in total opposition’  to the National Security Council’s assessment.

In Eisenkot's words:

‘ [The National Security Council] determined that there was a need to disconnect from the Palestinians and establish two states’.

Since 7 October, Netanyahu has shown no sign of realising that he committed one of the gravest strategic errors in recent global politics. Instead, he has doubled down on the idea that violence and oppression will bring peace and security for his people.

The bombing onslaught that the Israeli Government has unleashed on Gaza in the months since 7 October has all the military intelligence of the United States’s infamous "shock and awe" bombing campaign of Iraq in 2003. With the estimated death toll in Gaza now more than 27,000, it remains unclear how indiscriminate bombing of populated areas can ever kill more terrorists than it creates.

A two-state solution is the only solution

With this understanding of Netanyahu in mind, Australia’s conservatives must change their position on Israel and Palestine. Their blind support for Netanyahu and his harmful actions is disastrous politicking.

Looking forward, a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine has three possible scenarios. First, a continuation of the status quo of endless cycles of violence and oppression. This appears to be Netanyahu’s preference.

Second, the forced migration of either the Israelis or the Palestinians to another country. Two of Netanyahu’s government ministers have suggested this form of ethnic cleansing for the people of Gaza.

Third, a free, fair and democratic state for all Jewish and Palestinian people. This is not commonly proposed, as it would require power sharing between the 7 million Jews and the 7 million Palestinians, or lead to a Palestinian majority through the return of some of the 6 million Palestinians in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Given each of these scenarios is unpalatable, it is clear the best result for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people is a two-state solution. It will not be easy to implement, but it is the greatest hope of providing genuine, long-term peace and security.

If Dutton and his colleagues truly want to help Israel and its Jewish people, they must end their current approach and support a two-state solution.

Adrian McMahon has worked in the Australian and Victorian public services. He has primarily been a policy adviser, in the fields of international relations, national security, criminal intelligence and family violence.

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