Wednesday 27th of August 2014

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Current escalations aside, on November 29, the Palestinian Authority is scheduled to bring on a vote at the United Nations to determine whether it can be recognised as a "non-member observer state".

Even if it succeeds, this will only be a consolation prize for the Palestinians who failed in their bid for full recognition and membership of the body last year. This required the support of the Security Council, which with the certainty of an American veto, made it dead in the water.

However, to simply become an observer state (the Palestinians are currently an "observer entity") they only require a simple majority on the floor of the General Assembly where all countries are considered equal.

While Australia has long championed a two-state solution, we look set to once again deny the Palestinians this most basic recognition. Doing so will put us "on the wrong side of history" as former foreign minister Gareth Evans recently declared.

In 1947, one of the legends of Australian diplomacy, foreign minister HV Evatt, successfully steered the passage of the first UN resolution calling for a two-state solution and which granted Israel membership of the diplomatic community earning their "undying gratitude".

But since then Australia's genuine commitment to a two-state solution has waxed and waned with successive governments against the backdrop of an ever-increasing security relationship with the United States and by implication, Israel – which fears particularly that while Palestinian sovereignty will not automatically establish or guarantee membership of the International Criminal Court, it will set this process in train which could lead to claims of human rights violations.

While many held hope that President Obama would represent a turning point in the peace process, including through his promise to visit both Jerusalem and Ramallah in his first year in office and his roadmap to a two-state solution, he has failed to deliver on all counts. Indeed, besides a brief flutter of proxy interest through Hillary Clinton, the Obama Administration in fact has not only dropped the ball but even managed to annoy the Israelis in the process.

Despite this, some are still not deterred.

Foreign minister Bob Carr for one has long thought that an Obama second term would likely see a renewed focus on Middle East peace even with current hostilities. But while many Commanders-in-Chief often turn to the safe ground of foreign policy during their twilight years (which some argue will come earlier than others for Obama during this term), this seems increasingly remote.

But even so, the Palestinians have been kind to Obama so far.

Before launching a full membership bid in 2011 the Palestinians waited for his one-off roadmap to expire, and this year delayed the latest attempt until after the November election.

This also worked well for Australia, which had long feared that the only circumstance that could immediately scuttle its bid for the UN Security Council would be a vote on Palestine before the General Assembly.

However, the Palestinians are rightly getting anxious and are understood to have formally written to the Australian government as recently as October seeking clarification on Canberra's position ahead of our eventual election to the Security Council.

Despite this, the Prime Minister remains singlehandedly and stubbornly defiant that Australia must vote no to any UN resolutions on Palestine and not upset what she terms the "path to peace". However, besides having the opportunity to visit the country twice through a Rambam Fellowship in 2005 and attending the Australia Israel Leadership Forum in 2009, the source of the unequivocal nature of the Prime Minister's view has never been outlined.

Her statement last week on the latest uprisings simply called for restraint on both sides underscoring Israel's right to defend itself, failing to deplore the utility of first instance political assassinations seen in the killing of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari.

Last year, when Palestine separately sought membership of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Australia was one of only 14 countries to deny their successful bid. Besides Israel, in our company were the United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and a handful of Pacific Island states. As a result of the victory, Washington subsequently cut funding to the UN body seriously crippling its work.

Yet as the prospect of a General Assembly vote neared, the former foreign minister Kevin Rudd was understood to have convinced the Prime Minister to at least abstain from any resolution, for no other reason than to keep the Security Council bid on life support. Some, including The Australia’s Greg Sheridan quickly labelled even this possibility a "dishonourable act of cowardice'. Bob Carr's comments over the weekends also suggest he considers the current policy out of step with the best prospects for a region he has taken a particular interest in during his short time in the job.

Many others on both sides of the parliament have also been critical of the Prime Minister's position, including Labor Senator Doug Cameron and Western Australian backbencher and former international human rights lawyer Melissa Parkes.

Ultimately, Australia must begin to walk-the-walk if it is going to talk-the-talk of a two-state solution.

As the former Multicultural Affairs Commissioner for Victoria Joseph Wakim recently wrote, "one plus zero does not equal zero" which seems to define the government’s current view on any votes on Palestine.

Meanwhile the rest of the world has made up its mind on this month's vote with the only question remaining the size of the victory.

It is time for Australia to genuinely commit to a two-state solution and support the modest Palestinian bid to become an observer state of the United Nations.

Doing so will not upset our belief that any state should have the right to defend itself, but it will show that we do what we say.

Thom Woodroofe is an associate fellow of The Asia Society. He tweets @thomwoodroofeView his full profile here.

Palestinian Bid For UN Status As Gaza Burns