The Israel Palestine conflict is back in the headlines as the violence in Gaza escalates and the death toll mounts. The UN has begun an investigation into alleged war crimes by the Israel government during the offensive.
While quite removed from the conflict, Australia’s strong support for Israel is out of step with the broader Asian region.
Since coming to office last year, the conservative government has been notably stauncher in its support for Israel than its predecessors were.
Last year, Canberra withdrew its prior support for a UN General Assembly bill calling on Israel to halt illegal settlements. Six countries ended up voting in support of the bill and Australia and four others abstained. Meanwhile, in June this year the Attorney General George Brandis announced that the government would no longer refer to East Jerusalem using the internationally commonly used term of “occupied,” saying it carried “pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to “restore the Australia-Israeli friendship.’’ Australian Federal Government Senator Scott Ryan addressed a pro-Israeli rally of around 2,000 in Melbourne last weekend, assuring them that “the Australian government stands with you.” Rallies of around 4,000 in Sydney and 3,000 in Melbourne were also held last weekend in solidarity with Palestine.
In a press release last week Foreign Minister Julie Bishop condemned Hamas for not accepting the Egyptian-led cease-fire effort, while praising the Israeli’s for their “leadership” in accepting the cease-fire offer.
Hamas has said they it only accept a cease-fire if the eight-year long blockade on the Gaza strip is lifted, something Israel has said it will not do.
In the past Bishop has made a strong case in support of Israel, refusing to call settlements “illegal” and calling the BDS boycott movement towards Israeli products “anti-semetic.”
According to the UN Human Rights Council Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law.
Australia’s strong support of Israel is in sharp contrast to policies elsewhere in the region. While in Muslim majority nations of Indonesia and Malaysia support for Palestine is unsurprisingly strong, India under the new leadership of Narendra Modi seems to be moving towards a more pro-Palestinian stance than in the past.
In a 2012 vote on Palestinian statehood, a small number of nations in the Asia-Pacific region abstained, including Australia, South Korea, Mongolia and Singapore. However, the vast majority of Asian nations backed Palestine, including major players China, Japan, India, Russia and Indonesia.
While the conflict is a long way away from Australian shores, Canberra’s continued vocal support for Israel would seem to have it out of step with much of the rest of the Asia-Pacific.