Old and worn out: Sheridan’s points against recognising a Palestinian state

On 4 July 2017 The Australian published an opinion piece by Greg Sheridan (Foreign Editor) “Labor’s Palestinian shift wrong and bad politics, too.”1 The article targeted the proposed resolution by New South Wales Labor demanding federal Labor recognise a Palestinian state. Sheridan puts forth the argument this move is politically and perhaps morally wrong, citing several reasons why, which are all familiar Zionist talking points. Below I will rebut the points Sheridan uses to support his argument, showing it is he who is wrong on both accounts.

Sheridan’s primary argument is based around the myth that Palestinians have not been willing to compromise in working toward a two-state solution. “For the two-state solution to work and a Palestinian state to come into existence, both sides will have to compromise. The Palestinian leadership has shown no willingness to compromise on a range of issues…” Sheridan then mentions some of those issues as examples (see below).

The argument that Palestinians are unwilling to compromise, are intransigent, and have refused Israeli offers of peace is one commonly used by Zionists. It twists the truth that it is actually the Palestinians who have conceded the most in the relationship. For example, it is commonly stated that at the Camp David negotiations in the year 2000 the Palestinians rejected the Israeli offer of a two-state solution. What they actually rejected was the Israeli offer of 91 percent of the West Bank (which under international law is not Israel’s to give), accompanied with other unreasonable demands such as dividing the West Bank into enclaves separated by Israeli settlements and Jewish-only highways, as well as Israeli military control over Palestine’s borders and airspace. In other words, Israel demanded that the Palestinians surrender more of their land, rights, and sovereignty.

The truth is that while the Palestinian leadership has accepted the two-state solution since the late 1980s, Israel has always rejected it by accompanying it with more onerous demands.

Right of Return
Sheridan believes Palestinians have not compromised on “the absurd claim that millions of Palestinian-descended people be allowed to settle in Israel proper.” This may actually be true – but why should they compromise on this point? The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 resolved “that the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”2 This “right of return” is enshrined in international law in articles such as the 1907 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws of War on Land, and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Thus, the idea that Palestinian refugees, and their descendants, be allowed to return to their homes is not at all “absurd” as Sheridan states. Why this right of return is unacceptable by Israel is the fear that Palestinian refugees, those driven from their land through war and violence (and their descendants) and numbering up to 7 million worldwide, will change the population dynamics of Israel, endangering Israel’s existence as a “Jewish State.”

Recognition of a Jewish State
Sheridan’s next example of Palestinians not compromising is failing to “recognise Israel as a Jewish state.” This is a clever obfuscation and an example of moving the goal posts. Palestinians have repeatedly recognised the State of Israel, a concession beginning with the 1993 Oslo Accords. Israel, however, has never recognised a Palestinian State. In fact, the founding document of the Likud party, led by Prime Minster Netanyahu, states “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty” and that “the establishment of a ‘Palestinian State’ jeopardizes the security of the Jewish population [and] endangers the existence of the State of Israel.”3 In 2007 Israel moved the goal posts by introducing the demand Palestinians recognise it as a “Jewish State.” This demand effectively dismissed the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel, and re-introduced recognition of Israel (now as a Jewish State) as a major issue and sticking point.4

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State is not just intransigence from the Palestinians, it has real implications. Up to 20 percent of Israelis are Palestinian,5 so a “Jewish State” risks legally reducing them to second-class citizens (arguably, unofficially they already are). Additionally, it would entitle any Jew anywhere in the world full citizen rights, regardless of current nationality, while Palestinians in the diaspora do not have such rights, and those in the occupied territories are forcibly evicted to make way for Israeli immigrants.6

Incitement to Terrorism
Sheridan next uses the example of Palestinians refusing to end “incitement to terrorism.” The question is, do they actually incite terrorism? In its charter, Hamas asserts that resistance, including armed resistance, “is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws.”7 The charter is correct. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 of 1974 forbids states and coalitions of states from “any military occupation, however temporary.” It also outlaws all forms of aggression, with one exception: the right to armed struggle. It determines that people under occupation, apartheid, and alien domination may resort to armed struggle in pursuit of freedom and independence. There have since been a myriad of UN General Assembly resolutions explicitly recognising that right, including resolutions referring specifically to Palestinians.8 Conflating terrorism with legitimate armed resistance has long been part of Israel’s propaganda against Palestinians.9 In this case, however, Hamas is within its rights to call for (“incite”) armed struggle10

Security of borders
Sheridan’s next example is “on accepting that there will have to be Israeli control over borders until the state can prove it is not a deadly security threat to Israeli security.” Israel’s military is huge and dwarfs Palestine’s, so describing a Palestinian state as a “deadly threat” is hyperbole. Furthermore, a Palestinian state with Israeli controlled borders is not independent – any country would find this situation unacceptable. However, again from Hamas’ charter: “Managing resistance, in terms of escalation or de-escalation, or in terms of diversifying the means and methods, is an integral part of the process of managing the conflict and should not be at the expense of the principle of resistance.” This indicates Hamas would be willing to de-escalate if it meant obtaining its goals, a compromise which may help secure Israel’s border.

Hamas a terrorist group
Sheridan’s final example is another terrorism canard: “a good portion of Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip, is controlled by Hamas, which Australian law recognises as a designated terrorist group. Sheridan is either ignorant or being disingenuous with his designated terrorist label. From the Australian Government: “Hamas is a multifaceted organisation that maintains extensive social service networks and is largely responsible for the administration and provision of government services, including health, education and security, to Gaza’s inhabitants… The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades provide Hamas with a paramilitary capability.” It is the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades which the Australian Government lists as a terrorist organisation, not Hamas.11 This point may seem pedantic, but an analogy would be listing the CIA as a terrorist group and then describing the US government as terrorists. Regardless of this point, the Australian Government does not formally recognise both Governments and States, it only recognises States. Hence, whether Hamas is a terrorist group or not is completely irrelevant to recognising a Palestinian state.

Israel’s support in Australia
Sheridan sums up his article with a warning to Labor: recognising a Palestinian state would be “…damaging for Labor, as Israel still enjoys wide support in Australia and identifying with that acrid range of international forces that hate Israel can only hurt Labor.” On the contrary, a recent poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research12 suggests recognising a Palestinian state may not be damaging at all. Some of the results of that poll are:

  • 34 percent of Australians said they sympathise more with the Palestinians than with Israel, while only 26 percent said they sympathise more with Israelis than with Palestinians
  • 55 percent of Australians see boycotting Israeli goods and services as a reasonable way to apply pressure in support of Palestinians rights
  • More than half of respondents disapprove of the Australian government’s rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016 to demand Israel stop settlement activities, which are illegal under international law.

The results of that poll suggest Australians are becoming more open to recognising a Palestinian state, and are hardening their views on Israel’s continued occupation, aggression, and defiance of international law.

This article set out to rebut Sheridan’s examples of Palestinian lack of compromise. Sheridan finishes his statement with recognising Palestine would be “…wrong in principle and likely to be bad politics.” This article shows it is actually Sheridan who is wrong on both accounts.

Show 12 footnotes

  1. Sheridan G, Labor’s Palestinian shift wrong and bad politics, The Australian, 4 July 2017, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/greg-sheridan/labors-palestinian-shift-wrong-and-bad-politics-too/news-story/c8ba0261e294bdef5a48f735d5369fb0
  2. United Nations General Assembly, 11 Dec 1948, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/194(III)
  3. Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/original-party-platform-of-the-likud-party
  4. Ibish H, 2014, How Many Times Must the Palestinians Recognize Israel?, Haaretz, 13 Mar 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.579701
  5. Jewish Virtual Library, 2017, Vital Statistics: Latest Population Statistics for Israel, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel
  6. Farha L, Palestine’s latest evictions are a human rights crisis – world leaders must act, The Guardian, 30 Aug 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/29/palestine-evictions-human-rights-susiya-bedouin-un-security-council
  7. Abunimah A, What’s behind Hamas’ new charter?, Electronic Intifada, 2 May 2017, https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/whats-behind-hamas-new-charter
  8. It should be noted that this right is still subject to international humanitarian law and excludes attacks targeting civilians
  9. As indeed it has of America’s propaganda against its enemies, for example insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan
  10. Ironically, Hamas’ new charter, which was only updated earlier this year and takes a more moderate approach, was dismissed by Israel before it was even published as an attempt to deceive the world that Hamas was becoming more moderate – so which side is refusing to compromise?
  11. Australian Government, Australian National Security, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/HamassIzzal-Dinal-QassamBrigades.aspx
  12. https://apan.org.au/media-release-29317-morgan-poll-government-out-of-touch-on-israelpalestine/

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