SMH Editorial – Mid-East peace: a time to speak 21Dec10 December 21, 2010

The Sydney Morning Herald Editorial -  21 December 2010

Kevin Rudd’s just-concluded visit to the Middle East gives us more reason to be grateful for WikiLeaks. From his public remarks, he has not thrown Australia’s diplomatic weight, for what it is worth, at the critical pressure points in the jammed machinery of the region’s peace process. Maybe he was more forceful in private discussions. He went to visit Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority at a time of a new stalemate in the 20-year peace negotiations. The Obama administration’s effort to get the Israelis and Palestinians back into direct negotiations, helped with a bribe to Israel of new military gear in return for a 90-day freeze on settlements in the conquered territories, has foundered.

International patience is fast running out. Brazil and Argentina have recognised a sovereign state of Palestine; the Europeans are threatening to follow. As Rudd himself warned, tucked away in a speech in Jerusalem, a window of opportunity seems to be closing. Israel may be left not with a two-nation settlement, but perhaps a messy one and two half-states, Israel plus a rump Palestine on the West Bank and a Hamas-ruled Gaza propped up by Iran. Or Palestinians may give up on the idea of their own state, and insist on a two-nation, single state in the original Palestine mandate.

The key blockage, for Israel’s Western friends, is its own politics. Hamas can be tackled further downstream. Israel’s mainstream politicians know very well the shape of the solution. Ehud Olmert admitted it in his last days as prime minister. The debate in Washington is now about how tough to be with Israel, to try to force the mainstream into a consensus decision. A bit of tough support from a key ally might have helped the Americans. It might have helped the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, face down his right-wing fringe supporters. 

Instead, Rudd’s public appearances were a feel-good profession of Australian support for Israel. His one comment about West Bank settlements – that they undermine peace prospects – was drawn out of him in Cairo by the Egyptian foreign minister. His suggestion that Israel sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was bizarre: Israel is a non-signatory with an undeclared nuclear weapons capability as insurance against obvious cheating by some of the treaty’s signatories, notably Iran. Rudd made a distasteful joke about Menachem Begin carrying out ”some interior redesign” of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel – referring to a terrorist bombing in 1946 that killed 91 people. Has Rudd really has got it as a diplomat? Perhaps WikiLeaks will one day reveal that he made a more appropriate pitch in private.

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