Former Aussie PM's wisdom

Israel and Gaza – what would Hawkie say?

A country such as Israel, when attacked by a neighbour, should have every right to retain any territory that it captures.

Former prime minister Bob Hawke addresses an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Melbourne in 2003. Photo: Lex Mrocki
Former prime minister Bob Hawke addresses an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Melbourne in 2003. Photo: Lex Mrocki

I recently came across a public Facebook post by emeritus principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College, Rabbi James Kennard, summarising why no Israeli political leader, from left to right, is currently championing a Palestinian state.

He mentioned the many times that Palestinians have rejected a peaceful solution based on such a proposal: 1947-48, the Oslo Peace Process from 1993, the Camp David summit of 2000, the Gaza Disengagement of 2005 and the Annapolis process of 2007-08.

He mentioned many of the present-day issues such as the PA’s current lack of recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and Hamas’ continued violent opposition to a Jewish state existing anywhere in the land of Israel.

And Rabbi Kennard also mentioned concerns for future events, that “Israel would have to know that if it had to act in self-defence, it would have the support of the United Nations … and if the UN actually passed a resolution ensuring Israel’s security, it would not be ignored like Resolution 1701 [regarding the disarmament of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon] has been ignored”.

This last point, regarding contingencies for coping with (very likely) future aggression from such a Palestinian state, jogged my memory back over 40 years to a speech given by the late great Bob (Robert James Lee) Hawke (1929-2019).

Hawke was a Labor leader, ACTU president and Prime Minister of Australia from 1983-91. In his younger years, he was a good friend of the Australian Jewish community and a staunch supporter of Israel (certainly in comparison to other Labor leaders such as Gough Whitlam, or the notorious Bill Hartley). However, after becoming PM, he adopted a more ‘even-handed’ approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 1979, as ACTU leader and almost four years before his ascension to power, Hawke was invited by the ABC to deliver a series of radio lectures known as the Boyer Lectures, described as “thinking on major social, scientific or cultural issues”.

The topic Hawke chose was ‘The Resolution of Conflict’. After four lectures dealing with the domestic Australian political landscape, he delivered the fifth, on ‘The International Context’, where he focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 1979 Israel and Egypt signed their historic peace treaty, which included the now almost-forgotten clauses on granting ‘autonomy’ to the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, and there was debate about what sort of autonomy that should be.

Hawke proposed that to satisfy Palestinian aspirations there should be an ‘independent Palestinian entity’ but recognised the Israeli fear that “an independent Palestinian entity on their immediate border would provide a strategic launching pad for an attack on Israel and thereby threaten the very viability of the State”.

But he had a solution. In the Hawke Peace Plan, he proposed: “… a term is inserted into the treaty giving substance to … [an] assurance by providing that should this in fact occur and Israel be forced as a result into war, then any new territorial lines emerging from such a conflict are non-negotiable.”

In other words, if the Palestinians, after being given sovereignty over land, demonstrate their aggressive intent, then Israel gets to keep any territory captured in its defensive war.

He further explained: “Israel, if the assurances were broken, would have to defend itself, as in the past, but would do so in the knowledge that it would not subsequently be subject again to interminable international pressure on the crucial question of the security and recognition of its borders.”

Sounded fair, but no such clauses were included in the later Oslo Accords or made part of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

When that happened, Gaza effectively became an ‘independent Palestinian entity’. The Palestinians reciprocated Israel’s gift by turning Gaza into the world’s largest military base, firing thousands of rockets into Israel over 18 years, and culminating in their invasion of October 7 which prompted the Israeli Army’s return to the Gaza strip.

Surely, under the Hawke doctrine, Israel could say “we gave you a chance and you blew it – game over”. Israel could keep control over the land and exert sovereignty over it forever. It would be the definition of insanity to repeat the same experiment and expect different results.

Hawke’s trust in international guarantees to Israel was naïve considering today’s near-unanimous consensus of the international community that Israel shouldn’t even have a right to defend itself from genocidal savages.

But he did express a very reasonable principle: That a country such as Israel, when attacked by a neighbour, should have every right to retain any territory that it captures. Such border changes are hardly unheard of. There are large parts of modern Poland, for example, that were taken from Germany after World War II.

Nevertheless, today’s Israeli government has declared that it has no interest in ruling Gaza, and no country would support such a move it if did. And those who call for returning to, rebuilding and resettling the beautiful and prosperous Israeli villages which were built in Gaza and evacuated in 2005 are labelled as right-wing extremists. But their right to do so was recognised by none other than the late Australian Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

Mordechai Smith is a member of the Sydney Jewish community who has long held an interest in history and current political events.

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