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Defense & Security

The Future of the Two-State Solution

Flags of Palestine and Israel on a Map of the Middle East.

Image Source : Shutterstock

by Dennis Altman

First Published in: Feb.05,2024

Feb.16, 2024

There can be no meaningful peace without full recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. Only new leadership and new vision, on both sides, will help. No issue of foreign policy that does not involve direct Australian military participation has caused as much division as the current Gaza War. There are several reasons for this. Since the creation of the state of Israel, Australia has been one of its staunchest supporters. Originally associated with Labor, because of Dr Herbert Evatt’s role in the United Nations and Bob Hawke’s infatuation with Israel, allegiances have shifted. After leaving office Hawke himself became more critical and former Foreign Ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr are now among Israel’s most trenchant critics, while the Liberals have embraced the Netanyahu government, seemingly impervious to criticisms of the carnage in Gaza. In part this is due to very effective pro-Israeli lobby groups and a Jewish community, which is one of the most ardently Zionist in the world. Another part is due to a reflexive mirroring of the United States; when Scott Morrison spoke of moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem he was both following President Donald Trump and hoping to win over Jewish voters in the Wentworth by-election. Beyond these factors is a largely unspoken sense of identity with Israel, which projects itself as standing up for western values of democracy within a region marked by turbulence and autocracy. Israeli propaganda has been very effective in highlighting Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism while passing over atrocities performed by their own troops. That sense is increasingly being questioned by younger Australians, who see more clearly than the political class the realities of Israel/Palestine. Israel is unique in that it is a state that defines itself in ethnic terms but effectively governs a population half of whom do not share the definition of being a real Israeli. Yes, Arab citizens in Israel are recognised, but their status is legally other than that of Jewish Israelis. In the occupied West Bank the massive growth of Jewish settlements—now estimated to include over 700,000 people—has created a system that many observers liken to apartheid. Most importantly, it has made the idea of a two-state solution, which is the rhetorical fallback for almost all our politicians, impossible. There are many arguments about why progress towards such a solution, which seemed momentarily possible after the Oslo Accords of 1994, stalled, and both sides share responsibility. But the reality is that Israel, as the dominant power, effectively blocked any moves that might have given meaningful sovereignty to the Palestinians. Indeed it seems the Netanyahu government has gone further. Not only has it encouraged continuing settlements in areas that were designated as part of a Palestinian state, it appears that it tolerated the existence of Hamas in Gaza as a means of weakening the Palestinian Authority and therefore their ability to seek statehood. However the current conflict ends, it will leave behind such deep scars that only a combination of new leadership and new vision on both sides can find peace. There are several scenarios that are being advocated, and there is increasing interest in a single state, with strong communal protection for Jews and Palestinians. [Various possibilities of how this might evolve are discussed in the new edition of After Zionism, edited by Antony Lowenstein and Ahmed Moor]. If both Israelis and Palestinians have equal claims to the land—“From the river to the sea” is a slogan that supporters of both find appropriate—there is a massive imbalance between them. Israel has military might and the support of the United States; the Palestinians have guarded support from Iran and no more than rhetoric from the Arab world. As Gaza is relentlessly bombed, flights from Dubai and Abu Dhabi bring businessmen and tourists into Tel Aviv. Crucial to any settlement will be a willingness by Israel’s western defenders to put sufficient pressure on whomever is in government after the current conflict to make major concessions. Not only is the current government deeply tarnished by its security failures, it includes ministers who deny any Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty and speak openly of what can only be described as ethnic cleansing. While the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority is geriatric, corrupt, and incompetent, no Palestinian movement can accept the permanent denial of sovereignty which is Netanyahu’s often stated position. The Albanese government has inched away from total support for Israel, presumably with one eye on domestic sensitivities, inflamed by the Murdoch press, which consistently conflates denunciation of Israel with anti-Semitism. As Penny Wong is consistently attacked by both the Liberals and the Greens the government may well feel they are managing Australia’s response effectively, and Wong’s visit to the Middle East was a nicely calculated diplomatic coup. But there are ways in which Australia might go further, in particular by making it clear that the position of the current Israeli government is unacceptable, both morally and politically. I suspect a stronger stance by Australia would be welcomed by the Biden Administration, which is constrained by the politics of election year, and the president’s own long emotional ties to Israel, from exercising real pressure on the Netanyahu government. If Australia is to sound credible when speaking of human rights abuses in countries such as Myanmar and China, it needs to be willing to address them when it is inconvenient. That a plausible case can be made at the International Court of Justice against Israel on charges of genocide underlines the scale of the carnage currently experienced in Gaza. While it is possible to “stand in solidarity” with Israel in reaction to the brutality of 7 October, it is no longer possible to be “in solidarity” with the Netanyahu government.

First published in :

Australian Outlook


Dennis Altman

Dennis Altman is the son of Jewish refugees, who first came to attention with the publication of his book Homosexual: Oppression & Liberation in 1972. His most recent books are God Save the Queen: the strange persistence of monarchies and Death in the Sauna   Altman is Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at LaTrobe University in Melbourne. He was President of the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific (2001-5 and was listed by The Bulletin as one of the 100 most influential Australians ever. He is Patron of the Australian Queer Archives and the Pride Foundation. 

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