United States, Israel, Australia and UN. Opinion: June 2022

Interestingly, the two most dominant politicians in Australia and Israel in recent times, Scott Morrison and Benjamin Netanyahu, now both find themselves in opposition.

What they have in common is that they are generally both held to be the major reason their respective parties are no longer in government.

What differentiates their ongoing political careers is that only Netanyahu, despite his loss, still leads the opposition and seems imminently poised to return to government.

For the past year, we have seen a sort of experiment in Israel.

A government composed of eight disparate parties united in one aim and held together by that. To stop Netanyahu returning to the prime ministership.

The Bennett-led government is more fragile as each day passes. Mainly it must be said because his own small party continues to splinter so that now the government has only 59 or 58 seats in the 120-member Knesset it can rely on. If that.

Ironically this has been a good government: with ministries functioning; agreeing on and passing an actual budget; proving adept diplomatically; being good on security; and perhaps almost most importantly, bringing an Arab party fully into government without the prophets of doom proving to be correct.

The biggest experiment and ground breaking as it is, has been the inclusion of an Israeli Arab party into a full partnership in government. An Islamist one at that.

Mansour Abbas: From dentist to key policy maker in Israel – Middle East Monitor
credit: ME Monitor

Ra’am’s leader said, in an important first for any Arab party, that he recognised Israel as a Jewish State. Lest there be any misunderstanding Mansour Abbas said this both in Hebrew and Arabic.

Abbas has conducted himself in a proper way, advocating and receiving a better economic and lifestyle deal for Israel Arabs and putting himself in some danger due to his open and willing relationship with the State of Israel and desire to be an integral part of her.

He has confounded his critics time and time again, especially those who doubted his sincerity.

On matters of security, the government has done well on many fronts, but Jerusalem and the Temple Mount provide a good example.

Last year the Arab riots on the Temple Mount and their reaction to the annual Jerusalem Day Flag Parade, led Hamas to launch an 11-day war of rockets and terror on Israel’s citizens.

This year, despite the once again, repeated Arab riots and the route of the Flag Parade and greater numbers of Jews walking on the Temple Mount and the resultant oft-repeated threats, Hamas did virtually nothing.

A combination of diplomacy, particularly with and by some Arab countries, and credible military deterrence by Israel, led to a better and safer time for Israelis.

In the face of this and a general recognition that it has performed satisfactorily at the very least, the government is still not at all popular.

According to the opinion polls, some of the parties that make it up would even be in danger of being out of the Knesset entirely in any new election.

Incentive enough one would normally think for these parties to want to ensure the government’s survival.

The current proposed legislation that is a possible trigger for a new government or elections, brings parties from both sides of the Knesset to vote against their own principles.

Since 1967, legislation bringing all Israelis living over the Green Line under Israeli Civil Law needs to be renewed every 5 years. The expiry of the current legislation is the end of this month.

Should this law not be renewed, life for Israelis living over the Green Line would be uncomfortable and more difficult.

This is a pro-settler piece of legislation that has been passed every five years, no matter who was in government.

The Netanyahu-led opposition who would normally have supported this without question, has voted against its renewal.

The politics of trying to bring the government down, trumping political ideology and beliefs.

Moreover, when settler chairman David Elhayani implored Netanyahu to support the bill saying “We’re talking about a bill that must be kept out of political bickering” he was heavily criticised by Likud leaders who said that bringing Bennett down was the first aim, regardless of the importance of this legislation to the settlers.

On the other hand, inside the government, Meretz in particular, with one exception, but also elements of Labor, voted in favour of the pro-settler legislation. In their case, flying in the face of their own political ideology and beliefs, in order to try and save the government itself. In their eyes, this being the lesser of the two evils between supporting settlers and seeing Netanyahu return.

We seem to be trapped in some Chelm-like state of play.

With 52 members of the right-wing opposition opposing the pro-settler bill, it was hardly surprising that two Israeli Arabs from inside the government, one a member of Meretz and one from Ra’am’s four Knesset members, also refused to support the legislation’s renewal.

So, to date, the bill has not passed – and time is running out.

The change of government here in Australia has led to the question of whether support for Israel may not be as strong as it has been in the recent past.

The first test of this was the UN Human Rights Council’s hypocritical “investigation” into alleged human rights abuses by Israel, which was released earlier this week.

With the UNHRC singling Israel and only Israel, out for such an annual pile-on.

The Biden administration did what it has consistently done, supporting Israel diplomatically. This time, by leading a 22-nation response to the UNHRC heavily criticising the one-sided nature of the report and disproportionate focus on Israel.

President Biden, being regarded as centre-left by the world, has generally been able to rally greater support for Israel and lead by example.

If after all, a centre leftist like Biden does not buy the picture presented by bodes like the UNHRC, nor sees its obsession with Israel as being deserved or justifiable, it is easier to bring others along with you.

There was initial disappointment in Australia not following Biden’s lead immediately and in not putting Australia by the side of the US, Canada, Germany, the UK et al.

However, in somewhat similar language, but with some qualification, Australian ambassador to the UN in Geneva Amanda Gorely, a short time later, read out a statement to the UNHRC which included positive policy positions such as “Australia agrees that the UNHRC brings a disproportionate scrutiny to Israel and does not support that Israel is the only country that is a permanent item on the HRC agenda. Which is why Australia does not and will not engage in Item 7 of the Council’s debate and why we retain our fundamental concerns about the nature of the Commission of Inquiry.”

Time will tell whether Australia will stay close to the US position on Israel, or drift further away.

Just as in an Israel advocacy sense, Biden’s support and the current Israeli government with its diverse left/right make up and Israeli Arab party inclusion makes for a more comfortable time on the world stage – a change in government in Israel, with a perceived shift by Israel to the right, will make it easier for the Australian government and indeed other countries, to use this as an excuse to widen the gap between themselves and Israel, if they choose to, or seek a trigger for preconceived views.

Such a potential Israeli government, which might also include Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir for example, will rightly or wrongly, make the job of presenting Israel’s case, just that little bit harder.

Interesting days ahead – and rocky waters.

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Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, State Zionist Council of NSW

 

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