12 November 2011


The following articles published in The Age newspaper over the week ranging from 5 to 11 November 2011 provide some diverting and diverging views on the Palestine bid for statehood - or at least standing as a nation at the United Nations:

ALP senator laments Gillard's Palestine stand

By Daniel Flitton

November 5, 2011

A PROMINENT Labor senator has expressed dismay at Julia Gillard's decision to overrule Kevin Rudd on a key United Nations vote on Palestine.

NSW Labor Senator Doug Cameron said Australia had missed a chance to help win peace in the Middle East.

The government is yet to declare how it will vote on the contentious plan for Palestine to join the world body, although Britain, France and Colombia told the UN overnight they will abstain on a vote.

The Age revealed yesterday Mr Rudd had also urged Australia to abstain from a separate resolution on Palestine becoming a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, only for Ms Gillard to ignore the advice and side with Israel, the US and 11 other countries in opposing the proposal.
Senator Cameron said yesterday he supported Mr Rudd's position and that recognition would have helped their cause and not harmed Israel. ''It would have meant we could take a very small step towards fixing the problems in the Middle East, which is so important in the overall fight against terrorism,'' he said.

Asked on ABC radio if he was disappointed Ms Gillard had overruled Mr Rudd, Senator Cameron responded: ''Yes, I am.''

Mr Rudd told reporters in Brisbane, when asked if he was satisfied with the UNESCO vote: ''I support the government's policy.'' The New York Times reported the Palestinian bid for UN membership - which Washington had threatened to veto - had moved closer to outright rejection in the Security Council.

Britain, Colombia and France told a private meeting of the council's membership committee they would abstain, raising doubts Palestinians could muster the nine votes needed on the 15-member body before the US would likely wield a veto. Should Palestinians push ahead to seek observer status in the General Assembly - similar to the Vatican - Australia would then be force to take a position.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd yesterday issued a statement in response to questions from The Age that has not changed since September.

''If a Palestinian resolution is introduced to the General Assembly - and that is not yet certain - the government will consider it carefully. The government will not make a decision until it has seen a draft resolution,'' it read.

Obama's gaffe exposes uneasy relationship with Israel

November 10, 2011

By Simon Mann in Washington

A CANDID moment between French and US Presidents has laid bare the testy relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's allies, and underscored the lingering discord between the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister.

In an exchange at last week's G20 meeting in Cannes, Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly branded Mr Netanyahu a ''liar'', inviting agreement from Barack Obama.

According to French journalists, who overheard the exchange, Mr Obama obliged, responding: ''You're sick of him, but I have to work with him every day.''

The loose remarks reflect mounting international frustration with the stalled Middle East peace process, as well as a barely concealed animosity between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu.

The gaffe gave Mr Obama's Republican opponents ammunition and prompted the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League to express concern over the extent to which the ''private views'' might inform US and French policy towards Israel.

''We hope that the Obama administration will do everything it can to reassure Israel that the relationship remains on a sure footing and to reinvigorate the trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which clearly is not what it should be,'' said the league's national director, Abraham Foxman.

Republican presidential wannabe Michele Bachmann demanded that Mr Obama apologise to Mr Netanyahu, linking the incident to the administration's lax efforts to protect Israel from the nuclear ambitions of Iran and to other ''tragic errors'' of the President's foreign policy.

The uneasy relationship between the two leaders was most on show in May when Mr Netanyahu lectured Mr Obama before reporters in the Oval Office, after the President had raised the prospect of a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders as a means of advancing the peace process. Mr Netanyahu flatly rejected the idea and appeared to patronise Mr Obama by offering a history lesson.

In an earlier meeting between them, Mr Obama had reportedly sat down to dinner, making the Israeli leader wait in another room at the White House.

Despite the embarrassment, a former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, did not believe the blunder would damage US-Israel relations, particularly over the issue at hand - Iran's nuclear ambitions.

''The subject is too serious to be affected by personalities. They agree on the nature of the threat and they also agree on the way to deal with it. That is by ratcheting up sanctions.''

Public backs Palestine bid

November 11, 2011

AUSTRALIANS broadly back an independent Palestinian state joining the United Nations but mostly confess to ignorance about the Middle East conflict, a poll has found.

The findings come as it appears the question of Palestinian membership at the UN will fail in the Security Council. The US has indicated it would veto any such resolution and Palestinian negotiators are now likely to take their quest to the General Assembly, where the Gillard government will be required to take a position.

The Roy Morgan poll, commissioned by advocacy group Australians for Palestine, found Australians had roughly equal sympathy for Israelis and Palestinians. But 62 per cent of those surveyed said Palestine should be accepted as a UN member after being told ''Israel and the USA are opposed to it'', although the question neglected to mention other countries also opposed.

The figure dropped to 52 per cent of people saying Australia should vote in favour of the Palestinian bid.

Voting against Palestine may cost Australia a seat on the Security Council

By Richard Woolcott

November 11, 2011

Our national interest requires a rethink on the Middle East.

The importance of Australia's candidature for election next October as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term (2013-14) should be better understood and supported by our politicians and the Australian public.

Unfortunately, our prospects have been undermined by our recent vote against Palestine's admission to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The Security Council is the principal organ of the UN with the power to impose sanctions and the responsibility for initiating peacekeeping operations. Like the G20's role in dealing with international economic and financial issues, the council deals with the maintenance of international peace and security. It is the world's pre-eminent crisis management forum.

Membership of the council is important to us. It will enhance our international standing as a responsible middle power. As I know from my experience in representing Australia on the council, membership offers an opportunity to make a difference, to influence situations in the direction of peace and to contribute to reforms.

The election, by secret ballot, will be contested. There are three candidates for two seats. When then prime minister Kevin Rudd announced our candidacy in March 2008, Finland and Luxembourg had already been in the field for well over a year.
Should we fail in our bid, the addition of two more western European voices, in addition to Britain and France, both permanent members of the council, would unbalance it, as happened in 1996 when we were defeated by Sweden and Portugal.

I have recently returned from two weeks in New York. Since my time at the UN, the global situation has changed enormously. Unprecedented economic growth, especially in China and India, and the increase in membership to 193 have driven change. The UN now reflects a different and much more complex, multipolar and interconnected world.
Australia has a proud record in the United Nations. We have played a major role in peacekeeping and peace-building since 1947. We have provided some 60,000 servicemen and police to more than 50 multi-lateral operations, including our major contribution to the UN Transitional Authority that brought peace and elections to Cambodia. We are in the top 10 contributors to the World Food Program, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the UN Development Program and the Human Rights Commission.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has described the Security Council's work as ''vital''. She worked to secure the support of the Pacific Islands Forum in Wellington in September and again at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. She will have more opportunities to seek support for our election at the APEC and East Asian Summit talks later this month.

In these circumstances, I find it both surprising and a decisive setback to our election prospects that the Prime Minister decided Australia should vote against the admission of Palestine to UNESCO.

The applications committee is to report to the Security Council today on Palestine's bid for statehood. If it is decided to vote in the council, the US is committed to a veto. Ultimately, however, the issue will presumably go to the General Assembly in the attempt to upgrade Palestinian representation. A positive approach to this issue is actually in the US and Israel's long-term interests.

Putting it bluntly, I consider that if we again vote against Palestinian ''statehood'' when it comes to the General Assembly, we are most unlikely to be elected to the council. At worst we should abstain.

I have never argued that we should change policies to secure a vote. What I have argued is that policies should be changed if they are ineffective or overdue for change, which is the case on a number of our votes on Middle East issues. We will do considerable damage to the more even-handed and reasonable policies we have been moving towards in the Middle East if we continue to vote against Palestinian statehood. This is also illogical because we support a two-state solution.

Middle Eastern diplomats outside Israel have depicted the present situation as like two people arguing over a pizza, but before the argument is resolved one side (Israel through the acceleration of its settlements program) has started to eat the pizza.

I do not think the security of Israel, which we rightly support strongly, is at issue. Israel's security needs to be underpinned by a negotiated two-state solution. Statehood itself can only result from a negotiated settlement, as all sides know.
This is a historic moment although it will not create a state, as the Palestinians themselves know. It does, however, reinforce their moral position and progress towards the accepted two-state solution.

We can and should win a seat on the Security Council. But I fear we will be defeated again, as we were in 1996, if we continue to vote against upgrading Palestinian representation, especially when it comes before the General Assembly. This will be a matter for regret and it will not be in our national interest.

Richard Woolcott, former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was Australia's ambassador to the UN (1982-88) and represented Australia last time it was elected to the Security Council in 1985-86.

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm