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Tuesday, 2 April 1957

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) in his speeches on foreign affairs always gives a correct impression, that he is a man of goodwill - and I believe that is true - doing his utmost in a difficult situation. That applies to his contribution this evening. What I complain about is that in the crucial matters that confront Australia and the world he really says very little and makes no positive proposals.

He started off this evening, quite correctly, in dealing with the* Middle East situation which is of tremendous importance; but he dealt with it by completely omitting one of the greatest and most appalling events in history - the invasion of Egypt by two great powers, Great Britain and France. I do not intend to go back on the details of that event, but I think that certain lessons can be drawn from it. It is inextricably interwoven with the situation in the Middle East generally and with the particular position of Israel. It was most refreshing to me and to my colleagues, who for years struggled for the purpose, to see Israel occupy its position as a nation in the nations of the world, and to see it subsequently accorded membership of the United Nations largely duc to the efforts of Australia acting through the Labour Government. Tonight, however, as far as the right honorable geneleman is concerned, the tables are completely turned. Let us look back at the record of the struggle of Israel at the time and the refusal of Great Britain to continue the Palestine mandate. It threw the whole problem on the doorstep of the United Nations, the authority in which the present Minister for External Affairs has no confidence. I admit that the situation in Palestine was difficult. Thousands of Jews were in internment camps. They had been loyal allies in the struggle in the Middle East. They were given arms and, as Mr. Churchill has pointed out in his books, they did the job most loyally. Now, the position has been reversed. 1 am not going to compete wilh the right honorable gentleman. Most of the things he said were correct. 1 have . always regarded Israel as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, and that is something that is almost completely lacking in the Middle East. Israel has a democratic system. The Minister for External Affairs, of course, organizes his Seatos and other organizations for the purpose of opposing radical, socialistdemocratic or Communist governments. That is the position. He has set out the schedule of contributions. That is the weakness of Seato. If he really believes in putting an end to aggression, if he really believes in peace in the world, then, if he really believes in continuing government in a country, he should just as equally throw weight and money into stopping fascist aggression within a country. I could tell him of many places in the world where a job of that kind could be done.

I hope to say a word about Seato later,

OUt 1 return to the problem of Israel. Let us see what the Minister counsels. After all, the facts cannot be very much in dispute. What are the dates? Last September the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) came back from the Cairo conference. His efforts were unsuccessful simply because he had been given an impossible task. He had no power to negotiate. But having come back, he suggested that the action of the Government of Egypt was not only arbitrary but was also illegal, which is quite a different proposition. No one dared to take the matter to the International Court, which was the proper body to determine it. On 25th September, the Prime Minister asked what were the courses, and suggested, first of all, full-blooded economic sanctions; failing that, the use of force - that is war against Egypt; and failing that, unless we continued to negotiate, to do nothing. That was his attitude in September last. Approximately three weeks later the British Government acted and it is beyond doubt that that decision to use force - in spite of the fact the United Nations was not authorizing it, and because of that fact - was a gross breach of international law, and no one will deny that. That is the background. Then there is the situation of the small nation of Israel. Look at the situation to-day. It is an almost impossible position because Israel followed the example to which 1 have referred.

What did the Minister say about it? Just listen to his proposals, Mr. Speaker -

A realist beginning must be made towards a solution of the long-standing Arab-Israeli problem. To this end belligerency by either side must be controlled, and a minimi pledge of nonbelligerency required.

Well, they have taken a mutual pledge over and over again. To say that belligerency must be controlled means that they must not make war on each other. That is one solution. We all want it, and we want to know how to bring it into existence. The Minister continued -

This is no more than a re-affirmation of what was contained in the Egyptian-Israeli Armistice Agreement.

They are already bound to do it. The Ministers says, " Let us make another declaration ". That would get us exactly nowhere. The Minister then said -

Tn to-day's circumstances of tension it is difficult to see how raiding and retaliation can be ensured against in practice other than by the creation of demilitarized zones al appropriate points on the Israeli borders, and that these should be occupied, if necessary, for an appreciable period of time, by United Nations forces.

That, of course, is being done at present under a United Nations decision. United Nations forces are in Gaza. But the right honorable gentleman gave away the United Nations to-night. He said to-night that you cannot do much with the United Nations because it consists of 80 members. It was all right when it consisted of 50 members, but now that it consists of 80 and, therefore, represents world opinion much better than ever before, he has lost faith in it.

Then the right honorable gentleman said quite correctly -

Israeli's right to exist must he recognized and her right to free passage through the Tiran Straits and the Suez Canal must be placed beyond doubt and respected.

Again he did not tell us how that could be achieved. It is precisely correct, and a counsel of perfection; but what can be done about it? I think I should tell the House that as long ago as 2nd February last I submitted two views to the Prime Minister. It seemed to me to be important at that time to get on with the job of settlement. I pointed out that Israel and Egypt had not met together in conference. Some one should call them together. It had not yet been done. There had been a mediation of a kind but there had been no actual meeting of these powers. I made a suggestion that an important step forward in the search for a just and lasting settlement between the nations directly concerned would be an immediate meeting at the highest level between the governments of Egypt and Israel. I said that the chances of an over-all Middle East understanding would be greatly enhanced if these nations could compose their differences. That in turn should also accelerate the satisfactory settlement of the question of the management and control of the Suez Canal. If the two governments were not agreeable to direct talks they could be assisted by one or more mediators. Action on these lines would be strictly in accordance with the United Nations Charter, because it was very clear that there were a number of matters in dispute between Egypt and Israel and the charter placed an obligation on all parties to international disputes to seek peaceful solutions, by all means including direct talks and so forth. I suggested that peaceful initiative by Australia might be welcomed, and would attract the support of the people of this country and of the United Nations.

Nothing has been done by the Government about this proposal, because apparently it has already given away the United Nations. The matter has not even been taken before the United Nations again. That is the first criticism I pass upon the Prime Minister. It is no use saying what is hoped for and wished for. Action must be taken. At the opening of the session I asked a question suggesting that in view of the possibility of hostilities being resumed, the matter must be brought again before the Security Council. The council is in continuous session. It could lay down principles in relation to the Suez Canal, and if it met would that not be more effective than just saying, as has been said here to-night what is hoped will be the solution. This Government is guilty of a lack of persistent and continuous faith in the United Nations.

Mr Casey - Nobody takes any notice of it.

Dr EVATT - The Minister says, " Nobody takes any notice of it ". But they all took notice ultimately when the United Nations ordered the forces to leave the countries they were occupying wrongfully and contrary to the Charter. Although they hedged for a time, finally they obeyed the United Nations directive. That was the very moment when the merits of the dispute should have been taken up afresh. Britain and France and Israel were not criticized and ordered out simply because their cause was wrong or unjust, but because they had taken the law into their own hands. Therefore, when that situation was remedied by obedience to the United Nations directive, that was the time to take up the matter again in the United Nations or failing that, to start mediation. I have been consumed with anxiety for the last three months about the way the situation has been drifting, and is continuing to drift and even now I say that the Government should make a contribution by suggesting a meeting between the disputing nations. Why cannot these people meet now? They will have to meet at some time or else there will be another outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East. 1 say that is a practical suggestion.

What is the cause of the Middle East crisis? The Minister for External Affairs claims that it is due to racial antipathy. I say it is due to nothing of the kind. The Australian Government should realize that the basic economic issue underlying the whole of the Middle East situation, including the Suez crisis, is the struggle of the world monopolies to control oil supplies. Is that seriously disputed?

Government Supporters. - Yes.

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