Australian gov't under growing pressure to recognize Palestinian state

The current Australian government has clearly been moving away from the strongly pro-Israel position of its predecessor.

 Free Palestine Rally - Melbourne 2021 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Free Palestine Rally - Melbourne 2021
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a genuine concern in Australia that our government may soon recognize “Palestine” as a state, making Australia only the second Western democracy after Sweden to take this premature and counterproductive step. 

It would certainly be popular among the rank-and-file members of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), which is led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and has a majority in the parliament. In recent years, ALP’s National Conference and the party conferences of every Australian state, except Victoria, have all passed motions calling for the ALP to recognize a Palestinian state once in government.

The ALP won government last year, unseating former PM Scott Morrison and the Liberal/National coalition. Riding high in opinion polls, it is expected to win at least one more three-year term.

During the 2018 National Conference of ALP, a motion was adopted stating that the Conference:

  • Supports the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders; 
  • Calls on the next Labor Government to recognize Palestine as a state; and 
  • Expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor Government.

That motion was moved by Penny Wong, who is now the Foreign Minister.

At its 2021 National Conference, a motion to elevate this motion to become an official part of the party’s policy platform, again moved by FM Wong, was again successful.

In the wake of the adoption of the 2021 motion, Senator Wong released a statement that, among other things, said that the resolution “reflects our belief that a true friend of Israel is a true friend of the rights of Palestinians to statehood,” and “reflects Conference’s prior expression of its view on statehood, while recognizing this is a decision for a future Labor government.”

When asked about this issue, Senator Wong has affirmed that the current government sees the question of recognition of Palestine as being at the discretion of the government, despite ALP’s policy platform. However, she has not ruled out that it could happen in this term of parliament. 

 There are influential elements within the ALP, including former Foreign Ministers Bob Carr and Gareth Evans, who are very actively campaigning for the government to recognize a Palestinian state. 

The internal party pressure on the government recognition of Palestine has intensified in the wake of a motion at the Victorian state Labor party conference on June 18 calling for recognition to occur in “this term” of government. The upcoming national ALP conference scheduled for August is likely to see further attempts by the pro-recognition activists in the party to up the pressure on the government. 

Overall, the current Australian government has clearly been moving away from the strongly pro-Israel position of its predecessor. It has already reversed its predecessor’s policies, including recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decision to halve funding to UNRWA. The new government also has changed Australia’s vote on a number of UN resolutions to a position less favorable to Israel, while some statements on Israel have become more critical. 

The party’s left-wing faction, which contains its staunchest supporters of the Palestinians, is also strongly opposed to Australia’s AUKUS military alliance with the US and UK, especially the nuclear-powered submarines Australia will be receiving as part of the agreement. There is some well-informed speculation that the government might agree to recognize Palestine as a trade-off for the left to acquiesce to AUKUS. 

The government does understand how strongly the Jewish community feels on this issue, and it does contain strong friends of Israel. We at AIJAC and other community groups continue to strongly argue that, with Palestinian intransigence the main stumbling block to peace, recognition would only reward and encourage the current destructive Palestinian tactics and make peace even harder to attain. The US Administration has also probably communicated that such recognition would be very problematic and destructive. 

However, the internal pressure is certainly mounting on PM Albanese’s government to recognize a Palestinian state. If this is to be prevented, Israel should be mobilizing all its means of diplomatic persuasion, and those of as many allies as possible, to convince Canberra to maintain the status quo. 

Jamie Hyams is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).