SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Caucus battle as Gillard urged to give Palestine UN status 27Nov12 November 27, 2012

by Phillip Coorey   -  The Sydney Morning Herald   -   27 November 2012

JULIA Gillard is facing caucus revolt over the Middle East, with Left and Right factions urging the Prime Minister to adopt a more even-handed approach to the ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestine.

Ms Gillard is under pressure for Australia to abstain from or vote yes in the United Nations General Assembly this week to give Palestine observer status in the UN.

Australia has yet to declare its final position, but Ms Gillard is understood to be inclined to vote against the motion which would align Australia with the US, Israel and the Marshall Islands against the rest of the world. MPs from both factions believe that approach is too one-sided and at odds with Labor policy. It is understood the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, and the bulk of the Right faction, backs abstaining while the traditionally pro-Palestinian Left advocates a yes vote.

Pressure is strong among MPs from western Sydney who are struggling to hold their seats and under pressure from Middle-Eastern constituents. Fairfax Media understands Ms Gillard was prevailed upon on Monday evening by the convenors of both factions to not vote ”no”. Others plan to raise the matter in caucus on Tuesday.

One MP said internal anger over the Israeli-Palestinian issue outweighed that caused by the latest change to asylum seeker policy, which has upset the Left.

”Even the Vatican has observer status,” said one member of the Right. ”Labor’s policy supports a two-state solution.”

Another said her stance on Israel bordered on Zionism.

Feelings are high following the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, during which the government and the federal opposition backed Israel’s right to defend itself.

”They called a ceasefire over there last week and we’re starting a fight here now,” said one MP.

Fairfax Media revealed last week that despite a general improvement in the polls for Labor, there has been no lift in a swag of western Sydney seats, and internally there are fears that up to 10 there could be lost at the next election.

Labor’s Left faction also met on Monday afternoon to discuss the increasingly harsh policy towards asylum seekers.

The NSW Senator and factional convenor, Doug Cameron, said the Left wanted some sort of statement from Ms Gillard putting the policy in the context of developing a regional solution to people smuggling.

”My concerns go to the fact that our policies are being determined on the basis of narrow domestic considerations, when this is a huge geopolitical issue,” Senator Cameron said.

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