Topics:  Labor puts cart before horse and risks rewarding terrorists;  

10 April 2024


Simon Birmingham: Penny Wong’s speech overnight, has done nothing but create confusion about whether the Albanese Government is proposing to fast-track recognition of a Palestinian state, or whether they remain committed to the decades long bipartisan policy of supporting the recognition of two-state solution following appropriate negotiations that agree upon borders and ensure an environment of security where the right to exist for each state is respected by the other.

What we’ve got from Penny Wong is seemingly a proposal to fast-track that, and remarkably, to do so at the worst of all times in regards to negotiations for a ceasefire, where pressure should be being put upon Hamas to agree to the release of hostages and to surrender its terrorist infrastructure, rather than being offered the prospect that the horrific, heinous acts of the past six months, and particularly the terrorist attacks of October 7, could yield some outcome in terms of an earlier or fast-tracked recognition of a new state.

The government needs to urgently clarify whether this is a proposal to fast-track, or whether they stand by the decades long bipartisan policy. They need to be clear when they say there is no role for Hamas, that there will be no recognition of a Palestinian state, while Hamas remains in a position to influence, control or conduct terrorist operations from any parts of the Palestinian territories. They need to be clear that security comes first and is a prerequisite for successful negotiations towards a two-state solution or any other enduring situation. We all wish to see the bloodshed come to an end, which is why we should be putting pressure on Hamas to compromise through the negotiations for ceasefire happening in Cairo at present. We all wish to see a situation where Israelis and Palestinians can live alongside one another in long term security and peace, but that requires a situation where the terrorists are removed to be able to achieve the type of negotiations to secure that security and peace for the long term.


Journalist: Do you see a path to security for Israel without Palestinian statehood?


Simon Birmingham: Ultimately, statehood and negotiations to achieve it depend upon security first. You’re not going to have the parties at the table negotiating an outcome whilst there is a terrorist threat on Israel’s doorstep. No country could live with the type of horrific terrorist threat that Hamas poses. They have restated their ambition to repeat the terrorist atrocities of October 7. That’s why they need to be removed and their removal, followed by a stabilisation of security in Palestinian territories, could then provide for a possible situation of negotiating a two-state solution. To suggest that it could be achieved through some fast-track process is naive and dangerous in the way in which the terrorists will view that as a win for their activities.


Journalist: So why do you argue this is pre-emptive and a dangerous rewarding of terrorism?


Simon Birmingham: This is clearly a pre-emptive action that comes before the necessary preconditions for negotiating a two-state solution have been met. And those preconditions are the removal of Hamas, the security environment, providing confidence for all parties that they will not be subject to terrorist attack, and clarity that all those in government positions across Palestinian territories respect Israel’s basic right to exist. And that is not the case at present.


Journalist: So, what do you see as a way out of this conflict if it’s not a Palestinian state?


Simon Birmingham: There are clear steps that need to be taken. The first is for Hamas to release the hostages they continue to hold. They then need to surrender their terrorist infrastructure, provide an environment where Palestinian peoples living in Gaza are no longer used as human shields and victims to Hamas’s terrorism and extremism. From there, you can have a stabilisation process in place that provides for security and from that secure environment, you can start to have negotiations between the types of government in the Palestinian territories that could recognise Israel’s right to exist. And could be modernised in terms of the way in which it operates relative to the terrorist extremes of Hamas or the current failures of the Palestinian Authority. But none of these things are overnight, and they are all long processes to be able to achieve an ultimate outcome of respecting the legitimate rights of Palestinian peoples and Israelis to live in peace and security. That’s why to go out there and create the type of confusion that Penny Wong has created, to dangle the type of incentive in relation to a premature or fast-tracked recognition of a Palestinian state is irresponsible, given the very hard yards that are required to remove the terrorists and to create the type of stability that could eventually see a pathway towards statehood.


Journalist: Do you think this could lead to greater division within the community as well?


Simon Birmingham: Within Australia I urge everyone to recognise that whilst there are strong views that people may have, they shouldn’t bring those views in a way that disrespects any other Australian. The huge rise that has been seen in antisemitism is a deep, deep concern. The fact that you have people afraid to wear religious garments, worried when they send their children to a religious school. That is not the Australian way, and we should be seeking to ensure that all Australians know they are loved and respected as part of our community.


Journalist: Are you concerned, though, if there isn’t a step forward that this could become an even more protracted battle and spread wider than what we’re already seeing?


Simon Birmingham: Well, of course, tragically, there are decades of conflict. But everyone should remember there was not a war in Gaza on October 6th. There was following Hamas killing more Jews on a single day than in any time since The Holocaust on October 7th. That dramatically changed the situation there. We all wish to see a peaceful outcome eventually achieved. But there are many steps that will have to be taken and to be able to achieve that and suggesting there’s some quick path to statehood is unrealistic, naive and would be seen by Hamas as some type of reward or outcome for their efforts. We don’t wish to see any escalation of the conflict elsewhere within the region, but tragically, you see Iran, who have sponsored Hamas equally providing incentives and support, be it in terms of the operations of Hezbollah or the Houthis, and creating other potential conflict zones that require serious effort to try to ensure that that conflict does not spread.


Journalist:  Do you think the foreign minister’s speech was out of step with the international community and the feeling within the international community?


Simon Birmingham: It’s a stark contrast, if you look at the United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan last night, talking about the need to put pressure on Hamas to make progress in ceasefire negotiations, while Penny Wong is talking about some type of premature or fast track two-state solution. Ultimately, there should be clarity from the Australian government that expects to see Hamas release the hostages, Hamas, surrender its terrorist infrastructure. Get the terrorists out of Gaza and the Palestinian territories. Then you can start to talk about process and progress towards recognition under negotiated terms, as has been Australia’s policy for decades.