Melissa Parkes MP (ALP) speaks on the Middle East in Parliament (Hansard p71) 25May11 May 27, 2011

Middle East

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (16:35): While the death of Osama Bin Laden brought an understandable analysis of its effect on Islamic extremism, there continues to be inadequate recognition of the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now in its 63rd year, remains both a powerful rallying cause for such extremist groups and the source of general grievance for Muslims worldwide. In recent years, the Pentagon and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have noted that the absence of Middle East peace is having a negative effect on US national security interests in the region.

The failure to resolve the long-running conflict also impacts on Australia’s national security, from its relevance to our military involvement in Afghanistan to the reality of its impact on our near neighbour Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. I have recently returned from a study tour of Palestine together with my parliamentary colleagues, the members for Calwell, Farrer and Shortland. This was the first time I had been back in the region since I worked for the UN refugee agency UNRWA in Gaza from 2002 to 2004.

I stand here tonight as someone who has lived and worked in the region and seen both sides of the conflict. I am not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine but pro-reconciliation, pro-peace and pro-justice. It is the policy of Australia’s major political parties and it is Australian government policy to support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This necessarily means independent states of Israel and  Palestine living side by side in peace and security. There must be a win-win outcome for the two sides or there will be no resolution of the conflict. There must be a commitment to non-violence on the part of both sides and all forms of violence against civilians are to be condemned in the strongest terms. However, too often the conflict is spoken of as if it is only the Palestinians who need to change their behaviour. The frequent rocket fire from Gaza into Israel by militant groups is a clear violation of international law. But so too is the disproportionate use of force by Israel against civilians that was evident in the war on Gaza. Also contrary to international law is the blockade on Gaza, which constitutes collective punishment of the civilian population, which has crippled the economy and left thousands of young people without any prospect of work or of leading lives of dignity and which has left 80 per cent of the Gaza population dependent on aid. So too is the program of establishing Israeli cities, roads and the wall in the occupied territory.

In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, almost every aspect of Palestinian life and the economy is controlled by checkpoints, closures, settlements and their buffer zones, and by Israeli-exclusive roads, the wall, house demolitions and an opaque administrative system of permits—required for building, residency, driving, work, access to agricultural land et cetera—that severely restricts freedom of movement, access to health and education services and the capacity of Christians and Muslims to access holy places. It is this context of occupation that is often missing in discussions about the conflict, which usually centre around the issue of security alone.

Security for both Israelis and Palestinians is a legitimate issue, but it should be understood that there is no parity of power in this equation. Israel is one of the largest military powers in the world and the only nuclear power in the Middle East. It has militarily occupied Palestine for 44 years. Last week US President Barack Obama called for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. He noted:

The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 borders as ‘indefensible’. Yet the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are an ongoing poke in the eye to the peace process and to a two-state solution because these so-called ‘facts on the ground’ form physical obstacles that may foreclose the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Despite the challenges presented by the occupation, the Palestinian authority has been advancing peaceful resolution of the conflict, and the relative peace experienced by Israeli citizens in recent years is a direct result of these efforts. This is more than the peace that existed at the time of the Northern Ireland agreement brokered by George Mitchell. And, instead of being seen as a threat, the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas should be regarded as a positive step towards the possibility of peace. Earlier this month Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, reported that the Israeli foreign ministry had advised the government to see the reconciliation as a strategic opportunity and to refrain from attacking it. The Haaretz editorial said:

It would be correct for Israel to recognize the Palestinian unity government in order to conduct a dialogue and neighborly relations with the Palestinian state in the future.

Israelis and Palestinians alike are entitled to live in peace with dignity and freedom, and to choose their own governments. It is not sustainable to require Palestinians to be stateless persons under the control of another country forever. On our visit we saw Palestinians drawing renewed hope from the Arab spring unfolding in the region around them. Australia, as a respected middle power country, is in a position to play a constructive role to help ensure a balanced outcome for both sides and to act as a living bridge between despair and hope. (Time expired)

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