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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17560

Ms LEY (7:35 PM) —I wish to let the House know that I have this week taken on the task of chairing this parliament's Friends of Palestine group. I pay tribute to the previous chair, the member for Parramatta, for his leadership of the group and the way he has consistently promoted friendship from us, as parliamentarians, towards the Palestinian people.

My involvement in this issue comes from my upbringing in the Middle East and the keen interest in its history and future I acquired then and still have today. As a child I lived in Qatar and the Emirates and grew up knowing the Arabs as open, friendly and generous. During a somewhat solitary childhood I developed a great and enduring attachment to the land and its people—to the white sand dunes; the dry water beds; the thorn bushes; the tracks across the desert as well as the long, fast roads; the oil flames burning; the palm shacks; the goats roaming throughout; and the persistent, unrelenting heat.

Australia supports the road map initiative of President Bush, a secure future for Israel and an independent Palestinian state. Our Prime Minister has said:

... we recognise the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. They have a place in the sun in the Middle East ...

Only shaky progress has been made on the road map so far. I remain optimistic. I see the new Palestinian government led by Prime Minister Abbas, a person who has previously spoken out against the militarisation of the intifada, as having a chance to bring the militants into line. I see President Sharon as having made positive statements about peace and having the credibility to be listened to seriously. Most importantly of all, the United States, after its success in Iraq, is in a position to exercise greater regional influence.

Palestinians in the occupied territories lead existences of daily suffering and deprivation. Israeli citizens are held back by the fear of terrorism. For the road map to succeed, both sides are going to have to make concessions; both sides are going to have to yield. In Sharm El Sheikh, President Bush urged Israel to give the Palestinians a state they can call home. He said:

I mean that the world needs to have a Palestinian state that is free, and at peace, and therefore my government will work with all parties concerned to achieve that vision ... we must not allow a few people, a few killers, a few terrorists, to destroy the dreams and hopes of the many.

The Palestinian Authority has had its police headquarters destroyed and police will need to regroup and retrain. However, it must hold to the agreement it made when it signed on to the peace process: to control and eventually dismantle the military cells of Hamas, an organisation that has rejected not only the road map but Israel's very existence; although I understand they have hinted they might agree to it—after an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.

Extremists on both sides cling to the idea that repeated suicide bombings and assassinations will bring about different results and will somehow create an outcome: the end of occupation, the end of terror. But as we have seen year after year, this only leads to more of the same. For every Palestinian terrorist leader assassinated, one, two or many stand ready to replace them. With every group of innocent Israelis bombed on their way to work, the determination of those opposed to the road map grows stronger.

Since the beginning of the Intifada, both sides have fought a long, bloody and essentially wasted struggle. The risk is that, exhausted though they must surely be, they have become anaesthetised to the violence and are prepared to accept this as `situation normal' and lock themselves in for another 20 years of conflict. In the same way that Israel demands security for its citizens before it will make peace, Palestinians require the same. Israel must recognise that some of its settlement activity has been provocative. President Bush stated recently, `Israel must deal with the settlements. Israel must make sure there is continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home.' As Colin Powell said in July last year:

When you start knocking down buildings with bulldozers, don't expect people not to respond to this kind of activity. When you start announcing more settlement activity, this does not create conditions that cause the other side to be less responsive or less violent.

Comparison with Northern Ireland's troubles gives me hope that there can be peace. There was a feeling in Britain for many years that the terror campaign in Britain and Northern Ireland would never end. Northern Ireland suffered its worst atrocity ever in December 1998, when a car bomb exploded in the heart of Omagh. Twenty-nine people were killed and 220 were injured. I am sure many expected the delicate peace negotiations to run off the rails. On 21 December, thousands took part in a candlelight procession through the streets of Omagh, in memory of the victims. Among them was John Kelly, a Sinn Fein assemblyman, once a leading IRA figure. On this occasion he used a word that Irish republicans had refused to utter through years of conflict. That word was `condemn'. I look forward to the day when we arrive, unequivocally, to the point where this shift in thinking is reached in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is great pain and great determination on both sides of this debate. It is not a matter of making a judgment about whose pain is greater or more legitimate. It is not a matter of finding a solution that is, in a purely objective sense, fair. There is no formula for absolute justice. The US President is to be commended for his commitment, and we urge him to stay determined and resolute. We see and hear so much about the battle. The average Palestinian does not hate the Jews; they just want a normal existence. I see this friendship group offering support in this quest for an ordinary life. We look forward to working constructively with the Israeli Friendship Group. (Time expired)