Eminent historian addresses AIJAC

Recognition "would immediately raise a whole host of issues" including borders, the authority of the state, its military capabilities and other issues which are meant to be negotiated.

Professor Martin Kramer. Photo: Screenshot
Professor Martin Kramer. Photo: Screenshot

Eminent historian Professor Martin Kramer strongly cautioned against Australia recognising a Palestinian state during a recent Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) webinar.

Professor Kramer, who has taught at a variety of universities in the US and Israel and is a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said to do so would be recognising something “which has yet to meet some of the fundamental obligations the Palestinian Authority undertook in the Oslo Accords”.

Recognition “would immediately raise a whole host of issues” including borders, the authority of the state, its military capabilities and other issues which are meant to be negotiated.

“Any step taken now on a unilateral basis will make it absolutely certain that [final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians] will never happen,” he said.

Professor Kramer also addressed Israel’s judicial reforms.

He said a narrative has developed among Religious Zionists, their allies in Likud, and the ultra-Orthodox that there is a judicial dictatorship that rules for the benefit of Israel’s elite.

Discussing the motivations of the proponents of the reforms, he said the Religious Zionists’ main aim is to incorporate the West Bank into Israel, denying voting rights to Arabs living there while giving them other democratic rights. The ultra-Orthodox rely on inequalities in their favour, such as exemptions from military service, for their way of life.

Both fear the courts, which uphold the principle of equality before the law, could be an obstacle, so they want to reduce the courts’ power.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, from Likud, resents the courts in large part because they allowed the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, which he still regards as a “black stain”, Kramer said.

He noted that there are now calls for a constitution based on the values expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which “contain the DNA of Israeli principles that can’t be overridden by a majority”, including that Israel is a Jewish state; its citizens are equal regardless of religion, race or sex; the state guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, language, education and culture; and it is peace-loving and faithful to the principles of the UN charter.

Looking back on the past 75 years, he said Israel’s founders would be impressed that Israel is a flourishing and strong democracy, astonished by the strength of its economy and surprised it had made peace with so many Arab countries.

But he said they would be disappointed by the major role played by religion in politics – including military service exemptions.

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