Topics:  Labor lacks courage to stand firm; UN General Assembly resolution; 

12:35PM AEST
13 May 2024


Kieran Gilbert:  Let’s turn our attention now to the Middle East and a huge reaction to the government’s supporting the vote at the UN the other day for Palestinian statehood. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham joins me. Thanks for your time. The government keen to point out this, is not Australia recognising a state of Palestine that would have to be done on a bilateral basis later. This is simply support for a two-state solution, which they’ve supported for a long time. That’s their argument.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Kieran, this is a profound shift by the government. However they try to excuse it, they have changed Australia’s foreign policy position. They’ve shifted the position in relation to a negotiated two-state solution to instead one where the government is telegraphing that a two-state solution could and should come before settlement of difficult questions. Like what the borders would look like? What security guarantees are given between the two states? What rights of return look like? These are all fundamental issues that parties have long accepted, need to be resolved and addressed to be able to achieve a secure, negotiated, two-state solution that can be enduring and lasting, and instead by putting the cart before the horse. Of signalling that the Labor government here supports an earlier recognition, you remove the incentive to negotiate and worse still, not only removing that incentive to negotiate on those difficult issues. But given what happened on October 7th, you are doing and taking steps and actions that Hamas, Iran and others welcome and see as progress-.


Kieran Gilbert: But when you say Hamas welcomes this as progress? I just read to you what Penny Wong said at the weekend. She says, I want to say this is a clear rejection of the goals and methods of Hamas, a two-state solution. Both Israel and Palestine is the opposite of what Hamas wants. Hamas does not want peace. It does not want long-term security for the state of Israel. That’s her statement at the weekend on Saturday, after this vote, Hamas does not want a two-state solution.


Simon Birmingham: Kieran, Hamas might be committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, but rest assured they, Iran and others will see this change in position of Australia, led by the Albanese Government and the UN vote, as another step towards what they want to see in terms of the way the international community responds. Because it’s an isolation of Israel. It is putting Israel back in a harder, more difficult position. And the Albanese Government has put us firmly at odds with our closest international partners. Neither of our AUKUS partners supported this resolution. The majority of our Five Eyes partners did not support this resolution. So, when you’ve got the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, as well as of course, others like Sweden and Switzerland are the key democratic partners, Germany or Italy. What is it that the Albanese Government has such great foresight over that all of these other key democratic partners, key security partners of Australia, have come to a different conclusion on.


Kieran Gilbert: But other key partners like Japan, Korea, New Zealand all voting in favour alongside Australia.


Simon Birmingham: There are of course differences, but Australia’s position has been a long-standing one in support, with bipartisan support, of it being a negotiated two-state solution. This is not about it being negotiated. This is providing recognition before the difficult questions are addressed and at the worst possible time. This resolution didn’t mention Hamas. It didn’t mention the hostages. It didn’t call for their release or for there to be an unconditional ceasefire by Hamas. So, in the immediate term, there should be pressure on Hamas to release those hostages and to surrender. And in the long term, there should be pressure for negotiation to resolve those difficult issues.


Kieran Gilbert: Absolutely. This is also something, though, and I many Israelis would agree exactly with what you’re saying, that the pressure should be on Hamas, but at the same time be very critical of Benjamin Netanyahu over this military operation. As you know, there have been protests in the streets about Benjamin Netanyahu and the way that he’s carried out the conflict, including from the families of the hostages. So, is he and the Israeli authorities the way they’ve carried out the war? Is it in part to blame for the momentum that we’ve seen internationally, of which we saw the culmination of that on the weekend in the UN?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I won’t comment on the domestic politics of Israel any more than I would any other country, partner or ally or friend of Australia. What I observed in Israel when I was there last December was a strong sense of unity across the political spectrum, to see Hamas removed as a terrorist threat and to see action followed through to secure that removal. And frankly, no country could live alongside the type of threat that manifested itself in the October 7th attacks. Obviously, we have been clear in the bipartisan resolution passed after those attacks last year that Israel should act with regard for international law, that they do need to ensure humanitarian access. We’ve been very consistent on those points. While the Albanese Government has changed its positions in UN votes over ceasefires, recognition and elsewhere and created this controversy. The Coalition has been consistent about Israel’s right to self-defence, the need to see Hamas removed, but also the need for regard for those aspects of international law and humanitarian assistance.


Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time.