Last week, for the first time Australia welcomed an Israeli Prime Minister to its shores. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s short visit has served to strengthen rather ambiguous ties with the Jewish nation, in light of recent UN sanctions and a growing corruption investigation.
Yet, while protestors paraded down Sydney streets in response to Netanyahu’s visit, the greater question presented itself; what exactly should Australia’s role be in Israeli affairs, and how does that effect our existing commitment to the United Nations?
‘War time allies,’ was how Netanyahu addressed Australia in his speech at Central Synagogue in Bondi Junction. A nearly two-thousand strong congregation had gathered, seated amidst were the likes of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and retail tycoon, Solomon Lew. “There’s no better friend for the state of Israel,” Netanyahu went on to say, in an address which praised political ties and denounced anti-Semitism and UN scrutiny.
Both Prime Ministers appeared eager to cement political ties and an amicable relationship between leaders, and their nations. But it was the latter that might prove difficult. While Malcolm Turnbull produced essays condemning UN sanctions – sanctions put forward by a delegation of which Australia has prominent seat as a former member of the security council, the same pleasantry and border-line sycophancy was not shared by all of the Australian political sphere.
“I prefer not to deal with labels but with substance, but I have a simple question for both former prime ministers: what kind of state will it be,” Netanyahu said, calling out former Labour Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd. During the visit, Malcom Turnbull asserted his support for a two state solution, stating it might soon be time for the two states to return to the negotiating table. In light of recent events, including US President Trump’s rejection of previous commitments to the solution, and Israel’s blatant defiance to UN sanctions on Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the likelihood of a fair negotiation process has fallen under scrutiny.
“Mr. Netanyahu knows these formulations like the back of his hand. Mr. Netanyahu also knows he has torpedoed each of them, often at five minutes to midnight, often by changing the goalposts, to the enduring frustration of both Republican and Democrat Administrations,” said former PM Kevin Rudd regarding previous negotiations conducted by the US, in a damning Facebook post on Tuesday.
Support for Australian-Israeli ties is not ubiquitous. A signed letter opposing Netanyhu’s visit bore the signatures of many prominent Australians such as former Federal Court Judge, Murray Willcox. Additionally, many took to the streets of Sydney in protest. The one-thousand strong crowd condemned Netanyahu’s willing actions against the Palestinian people, including the recurring issue of settlement building in Gaza and the West Bank.
Many members of the press have further scrutinized Netanyahu’s visit as a ploy to avoid building pressure in Israel as corruption investigations ramp up. Netanyahu is accused of accepting illicit gifts from donors.
The question returns to what Australia’s role should be moving forward. Amidst political and social criticism, is an expanded relationship with Jerusalem what Australia needs? In these politically turbulent times, Australia’s role within world affair’s is as complicated as ever. Should such a far-off and multifaceted issue as the conflict between Palestine and Israel be one that Australia is involved in? Having lost support under President Trump, might Australia’s support for an Israeli lead discourse regarding the two state solution symbolise the death nail for a true and fair Palestinian state.
Furthermore, the role Australia serves within the United Nations is increasingly ambiguous. As a founding member, Australia has often pledged support for UN resolutions. Yet for the Prime Minister to openly condemn UN policy, what role do we have in the delegation. While Australia’s neighbour of New Zealand is accused of committing an act of war by Prime Minister Netanyahu for enacting a UN vote on settlement building, where do our commitments lie? To the weathering United Nations, who’s role in world affair may prove to be more important than ever, but may leave us as another ‘enemy of Israel’. Or is it to the Israeli state, a prominent figure in the Middle East and a power financial ally. Only time will tell.