Three weeks before Australian elections, parties diverge on Israel issues

Polls in Australia are currently predicting a Labor victory.

Bill Shorten, leader of Australia's Labor Party, meets with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: POOL NEW)
Bill Shorten, leader of Australia's Labor Party, meets with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: POOL NEW)
With Australia headed to general elections on May 18, differences emerged between the ruling Liberal/National coalition and the Australian Labor Party on matters concerning Israel in answers the parties gave to a set of questions posed by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.
While both parties expressed a desire to enhance Australia’s long-standing, close and broad bilateral relationship with Israel, differences appeared in Australia’s voting at the UN, and whether Australia should recognize “Palestine.”
Polls in Australia are currently predicting a Labor victory.
Asked under what circumstances Australia should recognize a Palestinian state, the coalition – led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison – replied that Australia “has long held that aspirations for Palestinian statehood can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, which is a longstanding position of the United Nations and many other countries.”
By contrast, the reply from the Labor Party, headed by Bill Shorten, reflected the party’s non-binding resolution passed by its conference in December – just three days after Morrison recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – to recognize “Palestine.”
“In December 2018, the Australian Labor Party National Conference resolved to support the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders. The resolution made clear the desire of the conference to recognize Palestine as a state while acknowledging this will ultimately be a matter for a future Labor Government,” its reply read.
“A Shorten Labor Government would ensure that any decision taken contributes to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to progress towards a two-state solution,” the reply continued.
Regarding Australia’s votes at the United Nations, which for the last number of years has been effectively aligned to that of the United States and very supportive of Israel, the Coalition said the Morrison Government “will stand by Israel in the face of biased and unfair targeting in the UN General Assembly. ln the past, Australia abstained on these resolutions where antisemitism was cloaked in language about human rights. Under the Morrison Government, Australia will oppose inherently antisemitic or anti-Israel bias and one-sided resolutions in the United Nations.”
The coalition also said that it will continue to maintain “a principled opposition” to anti-Israel resolutions at the Human Rights Council under Item 7 of the Council, which singles out Israel and requires that Israel’s human rights record be debated at every meeting. This is something that no other country has to face.
“Under the Morrison Government, Australia has voted against all resolutions under Item 7 since we joined the HRC as a member state in January 2018,” the Coalition noted.
Labor was more equivocal.
It said that when it was last in the government it based its decisions on United Nations General Assembly resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian dispute on a case by case basis, each on its merits, and depending on whether these resolutions aligned with the party’s “very strong adherence to our support for a two-state solution and our support of the peace process. If the resolutions are consistent with this approach then we support them. This remains our position.”
Regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, both of the major parties continue to support it, despite Israel’s adamant opposition and the US withdrawal from the accord. In addition, neither party supports designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in its entirety, even though the US, UK, and Canada have done so.
Australia recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and opened a Trade and Defense office there in April. The decision to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was sharply criticized by Labor at the time. The party was not asked in this particular set of questions whether it would, if it regains power, reverse that move.
However, Labor’s shadow foreign minister Penny Wong said in December that “Labor does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the government would reverse this decision. The status of Jerusalem can only be resolved as part of any peace negotiations and two-state solution.”