No role for Hamas

Let’s hope for mature leadership

First is that Middle East history has taught that unilateral imposed solutions end up making things worse.

Foreign Minister Wong speaking at the ANU National Security College on April 9. Photo: Australian National University
Foreign Minister Wong speaking at the ANU National Security College on April 9. Photo: Australian National University

Australia is on the verge, as is the UK and others, of unilaterally recognising a State of Palestine. Such recognition has been granted by 139 other states.

There are arguments for and against recognition. When our Foreign Minister laid out her thinking on the issue in a speech to the ANU National Security College on April 9, there are many things people of goodwill would agree with about future prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.

Peace and security. Mutual recognition. Most importantly, that Australia recognises, as does the USA and other serious leaders of the international community, that “there is no role for Hamas in a future Palestinian State”.

Of course, the only way for that to happen is for Israel to militarily defeat Hamas to free the Palestinians politically from control of the barbaric and vicious Islamists who seek the elimination of Israel. This runs counter to the Foreign Minister’s advice to Israel to not launch a ground offensive in Rafah. The practical reality is that Israel will and must invade Rafah to eliminate the last functioning Hamas brigades and their leaders.

Unless the muted diplomacy around a “climb down for Hamas” succeeds. That is, learning from Israel in 1982 after its invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut, to allow the PLO to go into exile. So too, sending Sinwar and the Hamas leadership off to, say, Tunisia. With Hamas gone from the ground, a full-scale invasion of Rafah may be obviated.

The FM’s advice to Israel about Rafah lines up with something else alluded to in the speech, not specifically mentioned, but way more important than misguided supervision of IDF decision-making. And that is about the “day after”. Wong says, “The Netanyahu government’s refusal to even engage on the question of a Palestinian state” has caused “widespread frustration”. And so “the international community is now considering Palestinian statehood as a way of building momentum towards a two-state solution”.

It may be that the international community, given licence now by President Joe Biden and Jewish Democrat Minority Leader Chuck Shumer’s criticisms, feels free to want to impose a solution on what is clearly a dysfunctional Israeli government that has no postwar plan.

First is that Middle East history has taught that unilateral imposed solutions end up making things worse.

That aside, the real issue here is the Israeli government has no serious plan for “the day after”. We all know bits and pieces and a lot of that is circulated, like a disarmed Gaza, local control, no UNRWA, and so on. Israel, because it had to invade, is in control on the ground and six months into this terrible war, there is no coherent strategic plan for what comes after.

Bibi and his strategic “conception” that he had Hamas “under control” before October 7 shows us, he is a failed strategic thinker when it comes to the Palestinians. That the Palestinian political horizon – which is what Penny Wong is telling us – really is in his and Israel’s blind spot. All the current lack of engagement on this question now proves the point. Bibi and his team will go – sooner rather than later and Israel knows it.

But what does that mean for what Australia can and should do to assist in creating the conditions for a two-state outcome?

“Wrap Israel in a bear hug and she’ll make the hard decisions.” While attributed to former president Bill Clinton, the statement is true. Israel must be secure and FEEL it is so if it is going to make the tough calls on peace and security. When we tried in the past, we succeeded with Sadat and Egypt. We also got Arafat and 1000 Israelis killed.

Peace and security are possible but an ally’s job is to help wrap Israel in a cocoon of guaranteed security and demand of the Palestinians they use the language of “end of conflict” when you help brew the conditions for the state they desperately want and need.

My favourite line from the FM’s speech is where she says, “Australians know our country needs mature leadership for serious times.” Foreign Minister, it does not get more serious for Israel and the Jewish community of Australia. Both are under assault from those who wish us harm. It is not the time for hectoring Israel – it is time to be the ally that assists to create the conditions for Israel to make the intensely difficult decisions required to work with a willing Palestinian leadership that will engage in the process of a two-state solution.

The horse called unilateral recognition may have now bolted out of the Labor stable. Having given this speech four weeks before the Victorian ALP State Conference, the timing is too political to be anything but. Expect to see that conference, dominated by the Labor left, join the pile on, decry a long list of Israel’s malfeasance in vituperative and malicious detail, and then vociferously demand recognition of a Palestinian state.

Let us hope the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister give us the mature leadership Israel and the Jewish community so desperately need right now.

Adam Slonim is the director of the Middle East Policy Forum.

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