Palestinians need a peace based on justice and equality

Free Palestine rally in Sydney
Sydney Nakba rally. Photo: Peter Boyle

A regular claim by supporters of Israel is that everyone, and Palestinians in particular, must recognise “Israel’s right to exist”. This is absurd.

Imagine insisting that Scottish independence is impossible because the United Kingdom has a “right to exist”.

States don’t have rights. People have the rights including, of course, Israelis and Palestinians.

Furthermore, it’s the very existence of the Palestinian people that is under threat, not Israel. The violent dispossession of the Palestinians that began in 1948 has never stopped. It is this overarching act of violence that frames every dimension of the conflict today.

The insistence on Israel’s “right to exist” is really a demand for the maintenance of a supremacist “Jewish’’ state, in which Palestinians are second-class citizens.

It makes Israel an apartheid state. This is both unjust and incompatible with peace.

No amount of pointing at the failings, crimes or excesses of the Palestinian authorities (whether Hamas or Fatah) can change this. Nor can it change the fact that an oppressed people have the right, morally and in law, to fight back.

The only way to guarantee the rights of Palestinians and Israelis is to create peace with justice. That means forging a path towards a democratic secular state, in which all people living in Palestine/Israel are equal regardless of their religion, ethnicity or language.

At the moment it is hard to imagine such a peace emerging given that the Israeli establishment is hell-bent on continuing its dispossession of the Palestinians and it has the backing of the United States, including US$4 billion a year in military aid.

Australia, the ever-loyal vassal state in the form of Coalition and Labor MPs, always echoes the line coming from Washington, including some muted criticism about violence “on both sides” when they feel that Israel needs to rein it in just a little.

Negotiating this is particularly fraught for the Labor Party.

Just like it pretends to represent some mythical happy middle ground between big business and working people, it seeks to find a way to respond to concern about the plight of the Palestinians among its base while continuing to support Israel as it is, with the latter always predominating.

The response of Labor’s leadership to the growing call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel bears this out.

In 2011, the Labor leadership, including Anthony Albanese, teamed up with the Murdoch media in a grubby smear campaign against the NSW Greens, labelling the party “antisemitic” for throwing support behind the BDS movement.

Antisemitism is a scourge that needs to be condemned wherever it rears its head; the organised Palestinian solidarity campaign is very vigilant about keeping this poison out of its ranks.

Not only is this line of attack on BDS profoundly dishonest, in misrepresenting what antisemitism actually is, it helps to spread it.

It is no coincidence that the same voices who condemn the Palestinians for resorting to armed struggle are the same ones who reject a non-violent civil society campaign like BDS.

The truth is they would like the Palestinians to passively accept whatever crumbs they are given, or to die out of sight and out of mind.

Both the Coalition government and Labor Opposition profess support for a so-called two-state “solution”.

However this could only be, at best, a possible stepping stone towards a real solution in the form of one democratic secular state.

The sort of Palestinian state former President Donald Trump and Israeli President Benjamin Netnayahu have in mind is a fragmented and dependent self-policing open-air prison camp.

Every day Israel is seizing more and more land, rendering the possibility of such a state less likely anyway.

The good news is that the tide of worldwide public opinion is turning against Israel, including in Australia and the US, and notably among American Jews. Putting pressure on Israel’s rulers by further isolating them is vital.

We need to push the federal government to be part of the solution by calling on Israel to abide by international law and United Nations resolutions. This includes immediately and unconditionally withdrawing from all the occupied territories, ending the siege of Gaza, allowing Palestinians refugees the right of return and giving full citizenship rights to all Palestinians living under its jurisdiction.

Australia also needs to join the vast majority of the world’s countries (138 UN member states) in recognising Palestinian statehood, not because it’s up to us to endorse any particular two-state formula, but to strengthen the momentum towards peace based on justice and equality between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite their bravery, neither the Palestinian people nor the small but determined Israeli peace movement can do it alone.

We may feel that whatever we do in Australia it is unlikely to be decisive. But, as part of a whole it can be and we have an obligation to lend every support we can.

[Sam Wainwright is a national co-convenor of the .]