Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Australia, the first by an Israeli prime minister, has brought on to the streets the usual pro-Palestinian crowd of boycott-loving, democracy-hating and terror-excusing fanatics. Expect the clamour to get much worse now that President Trump has signalled an end to US indulgence of the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu’s four day visit to Sydney was a triumph both for the Israeli leader and for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. ‘Two great democracies,’ Turnbull proclaimed. ‘One small in size, one vast.’ Yet Israel’s status as the only liberal, democratic nation amidst a vast expanse of autocratic and illiberal states counts for nothing among those who seek only the destruction of the tiny democracy where women and men, gay or straight, have full, legal rights as citizens. Their ire, this time, is directed at the settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas won by Israel in the Six Day War begun by its neighbours in 1967.
Before Netanyahu’s arrival, sixty individuals issued a statement organised by the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) denouncing his visit. ‘These [settlement] policies aim to intimidate and oppress the Palestinian population thus taking Israel irretrievably further from peace,’ the statement said. The Israeli prime minister ‘deserves a red card, not a red carpet,’ said Anglican Bishop George Browning, a signatory to the statement.
Browning has long been determinedly pro-Palestinian. Last year, he dismissed allegations that World Vision in Gaza diverted millions of dollars to fund Hamas’ terror operations as a malevolent Israeli plot to drive aid agencies from the area. Browning and his co-signatories, which include leaders of other churches, are incensed not just about Israel’s settlement building policies; they also deplore Australian opposition to December’s UN Resolution 2334 – passed in the Security Council thanks to US abstention – which declared that Israeli settlements have no legal validity. Palestinian leaders heralded 2334 as nothing less than an injunction from the Security Council to end Israeli occupation of the disputed territories, and as an endorsement of their entitlement to establish a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel – an apparent commitment to the ‘two-state’ solution. Whatever their legal status, however, the settlements, which are strongly opposed by many Israelis themselves, have never been the real barrier to peace: they are merely a pretext. The real barrier has been, and is, the Palestinians’ longstanding and outright refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state.
‘No peace, no recognition, no negotiations,’ Palestinian leaders declared three months after having lost the 1967 war. It’s been the same ever since. Time and again, the Palestinians have been offered their own state if they sign an ‘end of conflict’ agreement. But the Palestinians have repeatedly refused to accept the offer – and long before a single settlement had even been built after 1967.
They turned down the 1947 UN Partition Plan. They turned down offers made by Israeli prime ministers Barak and Olmert. And when Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza in 2005, they turned the region into a launch pad for rockets leading to the massacre of civilians. Instead of negotiating in good faith and making compromises for the prosperity and benefit of their own people, the Palestinians have opted for the status of victims. Instead of working to foster civil society in the territories they govern, they have incubated terror. None of this appears to trouble Browning and his APAN friends.
Refusing to accept responsibility, refusing to act, and refusing to pursue peace has long been the strategy pursued by the Palestinian leadership, portraying themselves as the innocents, and the Israelis – that is, the Jews – as the real perpetrators of the violence, the slaughter, and the terror. The UN, the EU, and – until now – the USA, have been reliable allies to help with the dirty work of putting international pressure on Israel.
But Israel’s enemies know the sands of history have shifted since Donald Trump became US President on 20 January. US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has stated the US ‘is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias’ and condemned the ‘terrible mistake’ of allowing UNR 2334 to pass. Nor is Trump committed to a two-state solution. If the Palestinians want a solution – whether a unitary or two-state solution – he has said they have to earn the right to a state. They are not simply entitled to a state.
Trump’s rejection of the Palestinian narrative of ‘rejectionism’ has enraged the Israel-haters even more who have no strategy other than increasing their fervent denunciations of Israel, pursing the pernicious, but ailing, BDS program, and parading their loud, ugly, anti-Semitic protests. In denouncing the tiny Jewish state once again, Browning and his co-signatories have torn another leaf straight from the Palestinian playbook: responsibility for peace, responsibility for terrorism, and responsibility for the misery of the Palestinian people rests entirely on the shoulders of Israel – that is, the Jews. And that’s all they ever say.
At home, Netanyahu faces his own political problems, holding together a fragile coalition government sitting on a slender majority of just six which is being pulled further to the Right because of security fears. Neither Hamas in Gaza, nor the hapless Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the West Bank, show any inclination to act with statesmanship and make the concessions needed to forge a negotiated settlement with Israel. Instead, they launch rockets, glorify terrorism and strut their victimhood before the international community. And so, a deft politician, ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu remains in office because of widely held, and well-founded fears about security.
The so-called ‘advocates’ for Palestine condemn Netanyahu but fail to understand that campaigns of indiscriminate killing will never win them the peaceful ‘two-state’ coexistence with Israel they profess to yearn for. They will do far more for their cause by using their advocacy to encourage the Palestinian leadership to step up and show themselves to be responsible and sincere negotiating partners. President Trump is losing patience; the advocates are losing time.