THE AUSTRALIAN: ALP pathetic for failing to vote on Palestine – John Howard 29Nov12 November 29, 2012

by Michael Sainsbury and Sid Maher   –   The Australian   –    29 November 2012

JOHN Howard has branded Julia Gillard’s backdown over her push to vote no for UN observer status for Palestine as an “embarrassment” as the issue reignited internal criticisms within the government about the Prime Minister’s judgment and leadership style.

The former prime minister made a rare re-entry into contemporary politics to describe the cabinet backlash and caucus revolt as “a very bad sign when you get rolled on something like that”.

Mr Howard’s intervention from Beijing, where he will speak at a business conference, came as Tony Abbott declared Ms Gillard “lacked the courage of her convictions” on support for Israel at the UN and asked what steps she would take to dispel the impression she had lost control of her government.

A fiery Ms Gillard responded by saying the government supported a two-state solution in the Middle East and blasted Mr Abbott for taking until yesterday to ask his first question of the week, given his deputy Julie Bishop’s sustained prosecution of the AWU matter which Ms Gillard labelled as embarrassing. “We would all want to wake up in a world where Israel can live behind secure borders, its people in peace, no longer fearing rocket attacks from anyone outside their territory,” Ms Gillard said. “We would all want to wake up in a world where the people of Palestine have their own nation and they too live in peace behind secure borders.”

Labor MPs described Ms Gillard’s initial attempt to push through a no vote in cabinet as “arrogant” and a move that had completely misread the view of the overwhelming majority of the party.

The move, supported by elements of the Victorian Right with close ties to the Jewish community, incensed major elements of the caucus who promised a revolt and demanded that the views of their constituents in Sydney and Melbourne be heard. Ms Gillard changed her position before Tuesday’s caucus meeting.

Her initial position was also at odds with former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who briefed caucus members on Monday advocating a yes vote on the motion to be debated in the UN tomorrow, and former prime minister Bob Hawke, who had told some MPs he supported a yes vote.

Amid the political fallout, Mark Leibler, chairman of the Australia, Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, said: “We’re disappointed. We think Australia could have taken a stronger stand.”

Mr Howard said: “I just think it is pathetic for a country to abstain on something like this.

“We are meant to be striking a confident new pose and the first thing we do is abstain. I can’t find any other word than pathetic. I don’t think I would have so misunderstood my cabinet or was unable to convince them. I never had anything like this, especially on foreign policy.”

In the Senate yesterday, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the decision to abstain was consistent with the government’s support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood and governments around the world would either cast a yes vote or an abstention.

The Australian understands only about seven countries, including the US, Israel and Canada, have declared they will vote no to the resolution. Senator Carr said: “To have voted no would have sent a message that Australia does not believe in . . . statehood for Palestinians.”

But he also said Israel could never be bombed towards accepting a two-state solution and that peace could not be achieved by firing missiles into Israel.

Additional reporting: Joe Kelly, Brendan Nicholson


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