[Published 9 August 2012]
Australia’s Foreign Minister - Senator Bob Carr - has been visiting Israel and in the time honoured tradition of all such visiting dignitaries - has met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The usual motherhood statement that normally follows such meetings was issued:
“In discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Senator Carr underscored the importance of reaching a negotiated two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and emphasised the urgent need for resumption of negotiations.”
Australia - like most countries around the world - has put its credibility, money and prestige on the line in wanting to see this outcome - even though 19 years of fruitless negotiations have failed to get the proposal to first base.
The key to such a solution is that it must be “negotiated” and for that to happen there is an “urgent need for resumption of negotiations”.
The problem is that Israel is ready to resume such negotiations without preconditions - but the Palestinian Authority will not resume those negotiations unless Israel imposes a building freeze in the West Bank for the duration of the resumed negotiations.
A 10 month moratorium imposed by Israel in November 2009 on new residential building in the West Bank proved to be a complete waste of time - as the Palestinian Authority only returned to the negotiating table one month prior to the moratorium’s expiry - and then tried to get an extension - which was rejected and has been refused ever since.
Australia and other like-minded nations must now actively and urgently engage in trying to break this impasse by getting Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table as soon as possible - if the two-state solution so earnestly desired is ever to be achieved.
There is no prospect of such a solution whilst Australia and many other countries of influence become more frustrated crossing their arms and furrowing their brows in making similar ineffectual statements.
At the same time these same countries are also wringing their hands at the murder and mayhem that has been going on before their very eyes in Syria for the last 18 months. Any action by them to halt the slaughter there - short of military intervention - is apparently beyond contemplation.
These countries can now only sit helplessly by and pray that there will be sufficient defections from the Assad regime to make his continuing grip on power untenable.
Iran, Russia and China - and the Alawite ruling minority - however have different ideas. The end of bloodbath is nowhere in sight.
Faced with this humanitarian tragedy in Syria - Australia and those other countries seeking the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority need to seriously reflect on the responsibility they will ultimately have to bear should violence shatter the present relative calm and lead to a strong military response by Israel in the West Bank or Gaza.
They should give serious consideration to implementing some of the following measures to try and get Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table immediately:
1. America could offer to pardon Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard after being imprisoned for the last 27 years - in return for Israel agreeing to a limited moratorium on building in the West Bank.
Pollard has renounced his United States citizenship and is now an Israeli citizen. He would be deported to Israel if he were released from prison.
President Obama has been opposed to such a move - but the deteriorating situation in Syria and the continuing stalemate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could be the catalysts for the President changing his mind - not to mention the boost that such a decision would give to his chances of re-election in November.
An offer to release Pollard would prove virtually impossible for Israel to refuse.
2. Australia and the European Union Member States could withhold any further funding to Israeli based non-government organisations financially assisting the 5% of the Palestinian Arabs who presently live in Area C - some 60% of the West Bank.
Much of this money has gone to fund illegal Arab building activity in Area C. Israel is acting through the Courts to end such illegal building and there is growing confrontation between the civil administration and the Arab residents,
Keeping the money flowing at least for humanitarian - if not building - purposes could be an incentive to the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table.
3. Some EU member states have formed an interest group to advocate a change in Israeli policy in Area C including Germany, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden and the EU Commission. These countries could indicate they will not pursue their agenda whilst the Palestinian Authority remains absent from the negotiating table.
4. Withdrawing all diplomatic and financial support should the Palestinian Authority continue to pursue its quest to be recognized as a non-member observer state at the United Nations in September in breach of its agreement to not take such unilateral action.
5. Cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority for use in Areas A and B where the remaining 95% of the West Bank Arab population reside.
6. Those 87 countries that did not vote to admit Palestine as a member State of UNESCO could begin a diplomatic campaign to terminate Palestine’s membership of UNESCO by securing a resolution requiring UNESCO to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice as to the legality and constitutionality of the decision to admit Palestine as a member state of UNESCO.
Whether any of these suggestions will have the desired effect of convincing Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations can only be determined once they have been put in motion.
The real question is - can the world afford to sit by and do nothing but utter platitudes such as those expressed by Australia’s Foreign Minister?
If that is all they continue to do - then the prospect of negotiations resuming again is bleak indeed.
The consequences and repercussions that could follow will bring home to the international community the folly of their inaction and the threat to human life their indecision helped incubate.
Another potential Syria with the world sitting by on the sidelines as the Israeli/Arab conflict spirals out of control - unable to do anything but call for a ceasefire that the international community is unable to enforce - is a horrible scenario.
It hopefully can be avoided - if the international community acts now