Friday, June 6, 2008

Rudd Gives Palestine the Brush-Off

The Sydney Morning Herald's Alan Ramsey was alone among our mainstream journalists (so far as I am aware) in reporting on a letter sent by Melbourne's Women for Palestine organization to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, asking them to give favourable consideration to moving "a parliamentary motion recognising May 15, the actual date of the 60th anniversary of Israel's creation, as a day of 'catastrophe, dispossession, displacement, exile and occupation' for the 700,000 Palestinians who'd lost their homes, their land and, in many cases, their lives in May* 1948." (Little or no time for Palestinians in Parliament, 17/5/08) Neither responded. This request, of course, was an attempt to balance the motion, "celebrating... the achievements of the State of Israel in the 60 years since its inception," moved by the Prime Minister (and seconded by the Opposition Leader) in the House of Representatives on March 12 this year.

[*Actually, from December, 1947 to the ceasefires of January-March, 1949.]

Ramsey also reported that, although each of the Parliament's 226 politicians were emailed on the matter, only one acknowledgement (from Kate Ellis, Rudd's junior minister for Youth and Sport) was received. He concluded his opinion piece with an account of two ill-fated attempts to raise the issue of the Palestinian Nakba in Federal Parliament:

"In the Parliament this week [12/5-16/5], two women MPs tried to prick their colleagues' consciences. The Greens senator Kerry Nettle and Labor's Julia Irwin, both from Sydney, tabled motions in the Senate and the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Irwin was allowed three minutes to speak on Wednesday, not in the house chamber itself but in the auxiliary main committee room. She said, in part: 'Eight years ago, I visited Israel and the occupied territories. The experience changed my views. Today we remember what Palestinians call al-Nakba, the catastrophe. Sixty years ago, Palestinians fled their homes to escape the massacres. Can those of us in Western nations, who have expressed congratulations to Israel on its 60th birthday, not spare a moment to remember the suffering of the Palestinian people 60 years ago, and the daily consequences of their dispossesion, displacement, exile and occupation? Today those 700,000 Palestinian refugees have grown into 7 million. Four million live under illegal occupation. Three million live as non-citizens in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and other countries. Palestine was never a land without people. Today it is a people without a land'.

"Kerry Nettle's motion on Thursday urged, in part: 'That the senate (a) acknowledges and sympathises with the Palestinians whose homes were destroyed or seized and family members killed 60 years ago at the inception of the state of Israel, which the Palestinians call al-Nakba, the catastrophe; (2) remembers with shame the failure of the international community to prevent the bloody events that followed the unilateral declaration of independent statehood by the Israeli leaders; (3) acknowledges the unique relationship between Australia and Palestine, commends the Palestinian Authority's commitment to democracy, reiterates Australia's commitment to Palestine's right to exist and our ongoing support to the peaceful establishment of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and and on this, the 60th anniversary, pledges frendship and enduring support to the people of Palestine'.

"There was no debate. Nettle did not get to speak in support of what she wanted her collegues to do. What the Senate then did was throw out Nettle's motion by 48 votes to five, with 23 senators declining to vote. The entire exercise - the reading of the motion and the subsequent vote - took nine minutes. Julia Irwin got three minutes.

"Our even-handed Middle East policy."

Almost two weeks after May 15 had come and gone, those who proposed the Nakba motion finally received a response to their letter - not from the Prime Minister, but from Garry Quinlan, Senior Adviser (Foreign Affairs, National Security, Defence & Trade).

It was the quintessential, platitudinous, bureaucratic brush-off. To add insult to injury it hadn't even been vetted for typos.*

Here's the gist: "... Australia has long supported efforts to reach a lasting and comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Australian Government greatly values its strong friendship with the Palestinian people and the contributions made by Australia's Palestinian community to our society. In the Parliamentary motion moved by the Prime Minister *to publicly reiterated the Australian Government's commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - a solution based on the recognition of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state and Israel's right to live in peace within secure borders. The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to re-state Australia's firm belief that the establishment of an independent and economically viable Palestinian state must remain a key objective of the Middle East peace process. The violence and loss of life that have marked the many years of the conflict are tragic and a matter of deep sadness to the Government. The Australian Government does not, however, consider that the Parliamentary motion you propose would contribute to the peace process currently underway between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

Just what you'd expect from a prime minister who has declared that support for Israel is "in my DNA."

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