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Tuesday, 14 May 2002
Page: 1420

Senator McGAURAN (8:09 PM) —The last six months has seen the worst upsurge in Middle East violence outside the declared of wars 1948, 1967 and 1973. The stream of Palestinian suicide bombers targeting Israeli citizens, the siege of the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity and the occupation by the Israeli army of key townships on the West Bank, along with the siege of Yasser Arafat in his headquarters at Ramallah, has yet again taken the area to new heights of terror and hatred.

We could dismiss these events as just another chapter in the cycle of violence in the Middle East. However, on any analysis, the last wave of terror has been more profoundly murderous and sustained than at any other time. Moreover, we are all more directly related and involved in these events than at any known time in the past, for we now know that terrorism unchecked, particularly terrorism in the Middle East, involves the whole world. We learnt that lesson on September 11 when 55 Australians were killed by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. In total, 60 countries lost lives in this barbarous and indiscriminate act. Today the continual Middle East showdowns, and with no lasting peace in sight, handicap America's and Australia's declared war on terror.

With yet another push for peace under way in the Middle East it may be believed that this time it will be different. As the world wants to win its war on terror, urgent peace will be demanded of the parties involved. But this is a delusion, a false hope, because if the latest events in the Middle East show us one thing it is that peace will never be achieved so long as Yasser Arafat is around. Yasser Arafat is a leader of a corrupt regime and is a terrorist himself. How can you ever negotiate with this man? He hates peace. As a result, the people of Israel live every second of their lives in fear, and his own Palestinian people live in poverty and under a dictatorial and corrupt administration.

In its most basic and fundamental form, the Middle East conflict can be put in this way: the Jewish leadership want peace and coexistence and will pay a price for it; the Palestinian leadership do not want peace at any price. I am convinced of this proposition after a long watch on this conflict. This belief was borne out when Yasser Arafat rejected a peace agreement in 2000 brokered by the United States and offered by former Israeli Prime Minister Barak. It would have given the Palestinian authority a state in a slightly enlarged Gaza Strip and 95 per cent of the West Bank as well as the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem, and the right of return to the Palestinian state of refugees. This deal was the absolute outer limits of what was possible.

This is just one of so many examples that show Yasser Arafat's rejection of peace over his reign of some 30 years. He has fooled, cajoled and manoeuvred world leaders to believe his good intent, right up to the delusion of the Oslo agreement, for which he, laughably, received a Nobel prize. This once heralded peace agreement is now assigned to the trashcan of history. As for the most recent comment of Yasser Arafat, taken from an interview from CNN this week, that he does accept a Jewish state of Israel, well, this should be taken with a grain of salt. In the words of one Israeli diplomat:

What is it about a Jewish state that he doesn't understand?

Meaning: why haven't his words ever been put into action before? Yasser Arafat has led us down this dead-end alley before. The truth is the Palestinian regime wants nothing less than the destruction of the state of Israel and the return of the whole of Jerusalem to Palestinian control. In private conversations with former Indonesian president Wahid, as distinct from his public rhetoric, Yasser Arafat has said:

... even if it takes 150 years we will throw the Jews into the sea.

What choice does Israel have but to respond and to use its obvious might to protect its land and its people, a people under relentless terrorist attacks by the Palestinians who themselves are supported by corrupt and extreme regimes in the Arab world. What other country would not respond the same as Israel? Australia would do the same. Look at how America responded to the September 11 attacks; it is the moral equivalent for Israel.

Equally, we have joined America in their fight against terrorism. Just as the Americans went into Afghanistan to root out the Al-Qaeda from their caves, so too was it necessary for the Israeli army to cross into the West Bank, into the towns and houses to destroy the cells of terrorism. If the Americans had not gone into Afghanistan, the Al-Qaeda would have found somewhere else to retreat to. If the Israelis had not gone into Jenin, for example, the Hamas terrorists and others would have found refuge somewhere else. Claims of a massacre occurring in the township of Jenin are typical of the chorus of rhetoric that is so often levelled at the Israelis' response to terrorism—not only from the Arab world but from so many in the international community. The operation undertaken by the Israelis in Jenin was paramount to routing the terrorist cells that threatened the Israeli citizens and the state's existence.

The evidence is undeniable. In Jenin and the surrounding villages, a Hamas network operated which was responsible for the perpetration of a number of lethal suicide attacks inside Israel. The most recent attack was in Haifa on 31 March 2002 in which 15 Israelis were killed. Until the Israeli defence force operations, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad infrastructure in Jenin was the strongest in the Palestinian territories, mostly due to the massive financial aid received from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership in Syria. Given this, I believe there is no moral equivalent to the Palestinian response to Israel's attacks and Israel's response to the Palestinians' aggression and terrorism. Yet Israel has proven that it will cease using armed forces against Palestinian targets if the campaign of terrorism against their citizens and state stops. The opposite is not true.

History shows that throughout Yasser Arafat's reign, right up until today, peace between the Jews and Palestinians has always been within reach—a peace that gives the Palestinians a state, the West Bank clear of Jewish settlements and financial support for the Palestinian government and economy. But, if the Palestinian people want it, they have to really want it and it must come with the price of co-existence. What must be done can only now be done without Yasser Arafat. As long as Yasser Arafat and his terrorist regime remain, lasting peace will never be brokered to the detriment of the welfare of his own people, who slip and slide further into poverty while he reigns.

The real answer lies in a new generation of Palestinian moderate leaders who will accept the one basic tenet that will bring peace: that Israel has a right to exist and that terrorist groups like Hamas are purged. Therefore, I call upon the Australian government to recognise that the existing Palestinian regime can never be reformed and must be confronted. Our present policy of equal engagement in the Middle East should be replaced with a frank engagement with the Palestinian government. This means we can no longer support the legitimacy of the current unreformed Palestinian regime with its links to terrorism. It may be said that Australia has little influence in Middle East politics—but this is not true. We are a major player in the war against terrorism, we are a close ally of the United States and, equally, we can influence the international forums within our region. If we believe in a robust defence of, and existence for, the state of Israel, then a fundamental shift in policy is needed.