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Adjournment debate - Gaza

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (12.31 pm)—

Predictions from various quarters that the Gaza disengagement would never happen or that it would lead to bloodshed or civil war have been proved wrong. As Martin Peretz wrote in the New Republic this week, ‘The civil war that had been widely feared turned out to be a lot of civil and very little war.’

Many people in Israel and the Jewish communities abroad opposed the withdrawal. Nathan Sharansky, an honest and sincere minister in the current Israeli government, a former heroic Soviet dissident, resigned from the Sharon cabinet saying he could not support the withdrawal. In my electorate, a great number of respected rabbis and other community leaders opposed the withdrawal. Although I respectfully disagree with their views, I acknowledge the sincerity and strength of their feelings and share their sadness that the intractable nature of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict should require such sacrifices from ordinary people.

The civilised and disciplined way in which nearly everyone in Israel on both sides of the dispute conducted themselves makes me proud to be an advocate for their cause. I will quote Martin Peretz again:

I was struck by the consistent intimacy of the population, even across bitter ideological lines. Words, not blows; and, in most cases, the arguments between soldiers and settlers ended with a hug, revealing the deep truth that the Jewish polis may be divided between messianism and realism, but is very much one.

I pay tribute to Prime Minister Sharon, who has reversed the politics of a lifetime and put the unity of his party and government at risk in the pursuit of a policy which he became convinced was necessary for peace. When a number of shadow ministers and I met him in May 2000, we were convinced that he was a pragmatist. It is true that the Gaza withdrawal is not intended as a prelude to a complete withdrawal from the 67 borders, as may be demanded, but Mr Sharon has never said that, nor is that the Israeli consensus.

The arrangements implicit in the disengagement are not a ploy to prevent a permanent settlement of the dispute. Israel needs and wants a peace settlement, and Mr Sharon and the Israeli body politic know that. Yet, as former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently told the Guardian, there are a number of concessions for very important areas of settlement like Maale Adumim that were already agreed by the Palestinians at Camp David and are certainly part of the American understanding for the withdrawal from Gaza.

There needs to be some realism, however, about what the final settlement will look like. Arafat rejected the Barak-Clinton plan in Camp David, which offered the Palestinians 97 per cent of the West Bank. It will not be made again. Some of the West Bank settlements around Jerusalem would be incorporated under any future conceivable agreement. Unfortunately we are still seeing, despite the Gaza withdrawal, the Hamas capo in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, saying in the Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat: Neither the liberation of the Gaza Strip, nor the liberation of the West Bank or even Jerusalem will suffice us. Hamas will pursue the armed struggle until the liberation of all our lands.

That is precisely the kind of extremist response to the reasonableness of the withdrawal from Gaza that the world does not need. Any agreement for an Israeli withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank or parts of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which has always been Australia’s policy and has always been the policy of the Labor Party, must be accompanied by defensible borders for Israel, recognition of that state by Arab states and abandonment by the Palestinians of the so-called right of return for descendents who left in 1948. They will, as Professor Schlomo Avineri said, be welcomed in a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

We also have to see the end of the incitement to violence—which we see all around the world—which has serious consequences, and the anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories which currently take place in Palestinian state media and in schools. There has to be an effective crackdown by the Palestinian authority on Hamas or terrorist groups. No Israeli politician, not even Mr Sharon, will be able to persuade the Israeli public to accept a peace agreement which entails withdrawal from large parts of the West Bank—lands which, unlike Gaza, are historically part of the Jewish homeland, Eretz Israel—unless there is an end to suicide bombing and other forms of terrorist attacks.

The fence the Israelis have been building seems to be absolutely successful in achieving these ends unilaterally. We are likely to see more unilateralism until real agreements can be reached between both sides. We have had many fine words from Mr Abbas and other Palestinian leaders on this but so far not enough action. If Palestinians do not like the security fence and if they do not like a continued presence in the cities—and I understand that they do not like these things—they know what they need to do. There is a possibility of an end to this intractable conflict, but it requires both sides being reasonable. I think a tremendous step was undertaken by the Israeli consensus, led by a most unlikely person, and it ought to be reciprocated by the other side. (Time expired)


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