Feud state

Does the Coalition actually support a two-state solution?

Foreign Minister Penny Wong appears to be choosing her words very carefully. A two-state solution is “the only hope” for peace in the Middle East, Wong told a conference last night, noting that “the international community is now considering the question of Palestinian statehood” and there is “widespread frustration” at the lack of progress since the 1990s Oslo accords. Wong made clear that Hamas could not play a role in a future Palestinian state, and pushed back on the idea that statehood would be “rewarding an enemy”, arguing that both sides would benefit. She did not, however, announce any change in Australia’s position. The minister’s cautious opening of the debate has been welcomed in many corners, including by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, which says Israel’s “policy of apartheid” is depriving Palestinians of basic rights. Others wish she would have gone further. But no amount of care could stop the Coalition from turning Wong’s moderate speech into something “downright dangerous”, claiming that Wong’s comments, which reflect growing international thinking, were about “chasing Green votes”. Does the Coalition support a two-state solution, or does it not?

It’s little surprise that the Opposition has leapt on Wong’s comments – in fact, it’s depressingly predictable. Throughout this conflict, the Coalition has sought to turn any expression of support for Palestinians, any call for the bloodshed to end, as a vicious attack on Israel, culminating this week in the baffling decision to stand with Israel over the death of an Australian aid worker. It doesn’t matter that Wong made it clear that Hamas could not play a role, nor that she did not actually announce a change in position (the 2018 ALP conference voted for a Labor government to recognise Palestinian statehood, but Wong has not made any move to do so). Nor did it matter that UK foreign secretary David Cameron, a former Tory PM, made much stronger comments last month. (The United Nations is this week considering adding Palestine as a full member, with the vast majority of members already recognising its statehood.) All that matters to the Coalition is the opportunity to attack, echoing the outrage of Jewish lobby groups at Labor for daring to step out of line.

Shadow foreign minister Simon Birmingham has led the charge here, with a statement accusing Wong of putting the “cart before the horse” for suggesting there will eventually be a Palestinian state. “Labor is threatening to break decades of bipartisan Australian foreign policy that recognition of a Palestinian state should only occur as part of a negotiated solution,” he added, once again assuming that “bipartisan” foreign policy is whatever the Coalition says it is. Birmingham knows full well, of course, that there was nothing controversial in Wong’s speech – not if you support a two-state solution. As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese noted today, the government’s position hasn’t actually changed, and a two-state solution remains a longstanding policy. It begs the question: does the Coalition still support one, or would it prefer the violent status quo?

That’s not to say that Wong isn’t making moves here, cautiously reminding us all that a two-state solution first requires a Palestinian state – something the Netanyahu government “refus[es] to even engage on”, she noted. Her remarks are long overdue, coming well behind those of other countries, and only amid growing Australian outrage at Israel’s conduct. But it is ludicrous for the Coalition to pretend that they are somehow radical, or that mentioning a future Palestinian state is an attack on anyone other than extremists who do not wish for Palestine to exist. Birmingham has accused Labor of breaking bipartisan policy here, insisting Australia cannot recognise Palestine until Israel says so. But it’s unclear how the Coalition can claim to support a two-state solution if we’re not allowed to recognise Palestine as a state at all.

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