‘The time has come to recognise Palestine’: Kevin Rudd reveals his ‘deepest fear’

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald – 20 February 2017

By Latika Bourke

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd says the “time has come” for Australia to recognise Palestine, saying his deepest fear is the “drifting towards the disintegration and death of an independent Palestinian state”, which he warns would fuel new radicalisation in the Middle East.

And in a sharp rebuke to both Israel and US President Donald Trump, who appeared to upend decades of US foreign policy by signalling that he would accept a one-state solution, Mr Rudd said it was critical that Australia, as a close friend to both Israel and the US, underline that abandoning the two-state solution would be “unacceptable”.

Speaking exclusively to Fairfax Media, Mr Rudd, who is in Munich attending a global security conference, said he also feared a third Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Mr Rudd’s call comes ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Australia – the first by a serving Israeli prime minister – which begins on Wednesday.

It also follows Israel’s move to build thousands of new houses in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Israel in recent weeks has also passed a bill retrospectively legalising 4000 homes on privately owned Palestinian land.

Alarmed by Mr Trump’s readiness to abandon decades of diplomatic efforts to secure a two-state solution to the conflict during Mr Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last week, Mr Rudd said the time for weasel words from Australia was over.

“My deepest fear is we are drifting towards the disintegration and death of an independent Palestinian state. This would be a tragedy for both the Palestinian and Israeli people,” he said. 

The former foreign minister said he had spoken at length to Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the years about resolving the conflict.

“For Israel, the isolation of Palestine and the removal of the prospect of both land and statehood may well lead to the re-radicalisation of the Palestinian people,” he said. 

“I deeply fear the possibility of a third Intifada. And so, the time has come for Australia to join countries like Sweden and the Holy See in formally recognising the Palestinian state.

“It is time for Australia to draw a line in the sand on this matter, as 137 states already have.”

Mr Rudd is the second former Labor prime minister and third respected party elder to call for Palestine to be recognised, with Bob Hawke and former foreign minister Gareth Evans also issuing statements in recent days.

The Labor Party’s platform supports a two-state solution, but says if there is no progress on the issue by the time the party is next in office it “will discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestine and announcing the conditions and timelines for the Australian recognition of a Palestinian state”.

Support within the parliamentary caucus has been on the rise in recent years, and was most evident when, in 2012, former foreign minister Bob Carr rolled the then prime minister Julia Gillard in cabinet on her opposition to Palestine winning a seat at the United Nations.

Mr Rudd stressed that, as prime minister and a former foreign minister, he had been a friend to both Palestine and Israel, having increased aid to Palestine and supported Israel’s right to exist behind safe borders.

But he said there could be no abandonment of a two-state solution, as Mr Trump said last week, when he signalled he would accept a one-state solution if both parties agreed on a deal.

“I’m looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like,” Mr Trump said.

“I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly if [Mr Netanyahu] and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Mr Trump’s newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley later said the US still supported the two-state solution but added, “We are thinking out of the box as well.”

“It is now critical for Israel’s closest friends and allies to send a clarion clear message to both Tel Aviv and Washington that the abandonment of a two-state solution is unacceptable,” Mr Rudd said. 

“Australia is one such close friend and ally. It is not acceptable, therefore, for Australia to use weasel words.”

Mr Rudd said the Israeli Knesset’s law legalising large scale settlements in occupied Palestinian territory “fundamentally undermines the prospect of a two-state solution” by downgrading the amount of territory a future independent Palestine could hope to own.

That move has sparked fierce opposition in Australia to Mr Netanyahu’s visit, with dozens of political, business, religious figures along with lawyers and academics calling for him to stay at home.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Australia supports a two-state solution, but Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has said Australia would have split with the United States and New Zealand to vote against a resolution the United Nations Security Council resolution passed in the dying days of the Obama administration condemning illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian land.

Australia was not forced to make this decision as it did not have a seat on the Security Council at the time.