28 February 2010

Ross Burns on reaction to forged passports

There is a worthwhile piece in today’s edition of The Age by former Australian diplomat (and former collegue) Ross Burns, on the Australian Government’s reaction to the news that three of the operatives involved in the assassination of Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai were carrying forged Australian passports (see here).

After quoting the comments of Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Burns comments:

This prompt response to the protection of Australian national interests is fully justified. But it is remarkable in that the present government, led by a prime minister happy to be described as a "Zionist", has held back from the slightest criticism of Israel, in spite of the many excesses of its response to the rocketing from Gaza in early 2009 and in the face of the obvious disinterest (sic.) in the Netanyahu government in ending settlement activity on occupied lands to advance a "two-state solution".

He asks the perfectly reasonable question whether Australia has encouraged in Israel an assumption that it is not just a supporter of Israel but an uncritical one:

The acting prime minister during the Gaza operation, Julia Gillard, quickly cranked out two mantras - "Hamas brought this on itself" and "Israel has a right to defend itself". She neglected to add that the "right to defend itself" also requires it to act within international norms.

While most Western countries have been cautious in their dealings with Benjamin Netanyahu and his openly anti-Arab Foreign Minister, Australia appeared more enthused than ever. Instead of buttressing US President Barack Obama's stand on settlement activity, for instance, Australia floated a series of vacuous but highly symbolic gestures towards Israel including parliamentary congratulations on the sixth decade of its existence (not normally a topic for parliamentary resolutions) and instituting a "leadership exchange" jamboree at deputy prime ministerial level that no other nation enjoys except the United States.

Most inexplicably of all, perhaps, Australia has been in the forefront of those countries that have chosen to blacken the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza war, headed by Richard Goldstone.

He concludes that what is required is

... a more hard-nosed emphasis on Australian interests, including those in the wider region, by a government and party that have been too smitten for their own (or Israel's) good.

One can but agree.

“Balancing” this item there is an incoherent, self-righteous rant from Sarah Honig, a columnist and senior editorial writer for The Jerusalem Post. Ms Honig works herself up into a fine old lather and manages to convince herself that the expressions of concern by four governments about the forging of their passports are hypocritical, and that it just goes to show that we live in such “an environment of intellectual anarchy” that “Israel's existential struggle stands no chance of being granted anything vaguely resembling a fair hearing”. Indeed,

The counterfeit passport kerfuffle underscores the fact that the international community appears to deny Israel any possible measure in aid of its self-preservation.

There are even people who are prepared to decry the invasions of Lebanon and Gaza as disproportionate!

Ms Honig laments that

... the international community's theatre of the absurd [is a] global burlesque [in which] everything can be turned upside down. The lie is granted equal standing with truth, and flagrant canards frequently gain the ascendancy and are paraded as fact. Values are devalued. Good and evil are interchangeable. Anything goes.

Let me offer a few canards that are often paraded as fact:

-  Israel faces an existential threat (it doesn’t, it is the dominant military power in the region and has been for decades).

- All Israel’s actions are defensive (they aren’t, most of them are highly aggressive and indeed disproportionate).

- The Israeli Defence Force is the most ethical armed force in the world (there is no basis for this claim, and there are far too many deaths of Palestinian civilians especially children that have never been satisfactorily investigated for it to be allowed to stand unchallenged).

-  All Israel wants is peace (what is the evidence that Israel wants peace?).

For a much more balanced view of the Dubai murder see the column A Tale of Two Assassinations by Larry Derfner here, in that same Jerusalem Post, 24 February 2010. Derfner explains why he was in favour of the 1997 attempt to murder Khaled Mashaal, but why he thinks it was a bad idea to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. He concludes with a summary of his argument:

In 1997, in the middle of the Oslo accord, with Hamas determined to kill its way to power, the assassination of its masterminds, such as Mashaal, was Israel's last option for security.

Today, with Hamas holding its fire in Gaza, with a peace government in Ramallah, there are all sorts of things we can do to protect ourselves before calling for the Mossad.

We can lift the blockade of Gaza and thereby lift the desperation of the Gazan people. We can join the rest of the world in accepting the Palestinians' right to a sovereign state based on the pre-Six Day War borders, not the subservience-with-a-flag that Netanyahu's offering them. We can talk turkey with Abbas and Fayyad. We can grow the hell up.

As the Bible says, there's a time to kill and a time to heal. On that basis, we should have put our hit squads on inactive duty a good few years ago. Enough with the James Bond routine; it's old. Everyone around here is winking and chuckling. Meanwhile, time is passing us by.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul, As an Australian living and working in the Middle East, I am heartened by the comments you make, and have previously made, and the words of Ross Burns, on the grossly unfair (putting it mildly) treatment of the Palestinians and their struggle for recognition and a fair go. There is a rapidly expanding voice of resentment to the Israli defiance of UN Resolutions, Human Rights abuses, etc etc, via the Internet, far too many now to read them all. It is wonderful to see this now coming from Australia, who really should be more supportive of the Palestinian cause, so may of our compatriates laid down their lives in and are buried in Palestine. New Matilda have copped a fair bit of flack for their publishing of alternative views and comments, I sincerely hope that you dont suffer the same.PaulRB_Doha.