04 July 2009

Palestine: Gillard on Australian Policy

In an interview for this week’s ABC Radio National Sunday Profile Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says that the Australian Government would be willing to consider contributing to an international peacekeeping force in the Palestinian territories.

This willingness is expressed with appropriate caution:

We are always prepared to consider requests case by case.

We have continuously assisted in the Middle East. Obviously I can't answer a hypothetical question about what would happen if we had a request, but if we did get a request, obviously we would work our way through it and consider it on the merits.

It is the next two paragraphs of this morning’s ABC News item that catch my eye:

Ms Gillard says the Government's insistence that Israel stop expanding its settlements in disputed territories has not damaged relations between the two nations.

Australia's position mirrors that of the US ...

My problem with the first paragraph is its half apologetic tone, and the implication that the boundaries of Australian policy on Palestine would be determined by what might “damage” our relations with Israel. Israel has a number of policies that are highly problematic, and the Australian Government should address these on their merits. If the Israelis find particular Australian attitudes to their policies or actions objectionable, so be it. The Japanese find our policies on whaling highly objectionable, but that does prevent the Australian Government from proclaiming and pursuing those policies.

My problem with the second is the use of the word “mirror” – maybe a Freudian slip, but then, maybe not. What you see in a mirror you see precisely because of what is in front of the mirror – it has no independent life of its own. So the literal reading of the proposition that our policy “mirrors” that of the United States is that the content of Australia’s policy is shaped precisely and automatically by the content of United States policy.

I would prefer that Australian policies on all matters be shaped by our own independent analysis of the circumstances and where the Australian national interest might lie. On any important matter that will be a matter of vigorous debate. For any given outcome some of us will be in raptures and others will hate it, but that is what being a grown-up country is all about.

On the substance of the issue of Australian participation in peacekeeping in the Palestinian territories, my advice would be to consider it very carefully and then express profound regret that other commitments prevent us from taking up this wonderful opportunity. Peacekeepers usually end up being hated by, and shot at by, both sides, and the Israelis are not ones to shrink from the odd angry shot at peace keepers or even UN peace observers (see for example this 2006 BBC News report about an Israeli attack on a UN post in Southern Lebanon; much more detail in the Wikipedia account).

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