Brown Study

Brown Study

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

I wonder if you have noticed that the public response here and overseas to the current Middle Eastern crisis has been more muted and subdued than the reaction to previous crises? I think it is because we have seen it all before and we are now just waiting for the inevitable compromise before we lurch back into the default position on Palestine, namely armed stand-off. So the view seems to be that there is no point in getting excited about an issue that will just smoulder away and never be resolved. It was therefore not very surprising news that Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organisation, has rejected the Egyptian proposal for a truce to the present hostilities. It is hard to get a handle on what the rejected proposal was, other than that it involved the usual ‘high level talks’, but it presumably amounted to a temporary ceasefire so that some form of mediation could take place, leading to a permanent halt to the firing of rockets at Israeli cities by Hamas and retaliatory air strikes from Israel.

In any event, the proposal for ‘high level talks’ is now off the table. But Israel accepted the proposal and most people would say that this was very much to its credit. Maybe it is. But is there anything in such a proposal for Israel or any real reason why Israel should accept it or go along with the talks and whatever compromise comes out of them? I doubt it. Israel and its citizens are under constant threat from Hamas which has a stockpile of thousands of unused rockets, Hamas wants to and intends to hurl them into Israel and even that objective is far short of its ultimate objective, to defeat Israel and expunge it from the map. In this venture it is supported by several of Israel’s neighbours and the whole of the extremist Islamist movement.


Now, that threat is not new and there is no evidence that Israel’s enemies have departed from the hard, uncompromising policy on display from Hamas. What worries me about Israel’s accepting ‘high level talks’ and a compromise, is that its policy in recent years has been based on exactly that approach, but with no results except more rockets and bloodshed, more attacks on its citizens and more malignant attacks on everything that Israel does. I have watched this perpetual crisis for many years, its milestones have been the withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon, the release of large numbers of prisoners and barren peace negotiations instigated by Mr Kerry. Each of those events was supposed to be reciprocated by movement to a less hostile anti-Israel position from the other side. None of it has occurred.

I cannot help but think that if Israel goes into more peace negotiations before achieving military victory, its enemies will interpret this as weakness and will act accordingly. Moreover, if there are talks that result only in some grand hope of a permanent stay on Hamas rockets and Israeli retaliation, the results will be more of the same; the rockets will remain, more will be built and more will be sent on their way and designed to do maximum harm to civilians, Israeli and Arab alike. So, yes, I suppose we can praise Israel for accepting a truce if there is one in the offing. But we would do a great disservice to that country and its long suffering people if we supported any notion that compromise, concession and the demonstration of weakness has the slightest hope of success. It is a sad but honest truth that this is one conflict where the military option has a long way to play out.

The Senate imbroglio is a shambles and is giving rise to the possibility that some essential budget measures will not be passed. Moreover, as we are entering a period of more international danger and resurgent terrorism, there is an urgent need for the government to be able to pass any new security legislation that is needed and it has already announced some of those measures. Security being what it is and the Greens and parts of the Labor party being what they are, there is no guarantee that such legislation would pass the Senate. So it is time we looked beyond the silly behaviour in the Senate to see what can be done to effect a long-term solution. It looks as if there will be no legislation to effect changes to voting for the Senate, so the basic problem of electing independents and mavericks and the lack of a coherent and working majority in that chamber will remain the same. It is also likely to get worse, as disenchantment with the major parties continues, the Labor party loses more of its traditional base and minor parties begin to fracture and splinter.

Not that any of this is new. The problem existed in 2003 when John Howard set up the constitutional review, of which I was the chairman, to look at ways of preventing the senate from obstructing legislation. We identified two options for change, both revolving around a joint sitting of the houses of the parliament to get legislation through without a double dissolution. The one we supported was the milder option, to have a joint sitting of both houses of parliament after an ordinary election to debate a Bill that had been rejected twice before the election and again after the election. The second option was to go straight to a joint sitting if a Bill was rejected by the Senate twice. There was such a hoo-ha about it that the government did not go ahead with either. Today I would go for the second option as the situation is more serious. At the least, the government could take up Howard’s suggestion of more consultation, public education and revisiting the issue later. That time has now come.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
Close