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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31787

Mr DANBY (12:47 PM) —by leave—I thank the House for the indulgence to speak briefly on the Gaza withdrawal plan. I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, has recently commended the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Ariel Sharon, on the proposal to withdraw from Gaza. Supporting unilateral disengagement is a very hard decision that those of us in the international community who are concerned about stability and peace in the Middle East need to examine in as realistic terms as possible. I think we will all come to the same conclusion that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has reached—that is, while it may be impossible for direct negotiations between the parties to take place at the moment because of the chances forsaken by the President of the Palestinian Authority, the disengagement of the two peoples is an achievement in itself. I note again, against two nostrums of conventional wisdom, that the building of the separation fence has led to a total collapse of suicide bombings in the civilian areas in Israel that were affected. Obviously, for a civilian population faced with daily attacks on people in restaurants, supermarkets et cetera, you would have to understand how, as I recently saw on the BBC, the overwhelming majority of people in the streets in Israel proper regard this halting of suicide attempts as a very positive development.

The other conventional wisdom relates to the role of Hamas in Gaza. In Gaza there is an existential war between Hamas and the state of Israel. Hamas is determined that the only border the Israelis should have is the Mediterranean Sea. Faced with an existential war, any country has the right to defend itself against the military practitioners of terrorism against its civilian population. Again, against conventional wisdom, it seems that the killing of the terrorist chieftains Rantissi, Sheik Yassin et cetera seems to have been absolutely effective, again leading to the virtual collapse of homicidal bombing.

I hope that, in the future, direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis will recommence. I note the recent comments by King Abdullah of Jordan that Mr Arafat should resign and give up his post. I notice also the comments by President Mubarak of Egypt that all the security services of the Palestinians should be established under one authority. I note the comments of the European Community that payments to elements of the Palestinian Authority should be made, especially European money, to authorised people and not to people for the purpose of buying suicide belts and going across and destroying any possibility of reconciliation between those two peoples.

The disengagement from Gaza, whatever one thinks of Mr Sharon or his past policies, is something that people around the world who have the courage to face the rational choices will need to face and should support. Disengagement of people in that area is the only way we can move forward at the moment until a new, more accommodating and far-sighted Palestinian leadership can come forward. Such Palestinian leaders are just below the level of Mr Arafat and will wish to negotiate a permanent peaceful solution. Australians of all political persuasions support such a solution. We supported, in 1948, a Palestinian Arab state alongside an Israeli Jewish state. That is a solution that everyone in the world knows is eventually going to take place. That is a solution to which I think the disengagement from Gaza is a precursor. People on this side of politics and, I am sure, people on the government side will support the disengagement from Gaza and the withdrawal from Gaza being supported by the Secretary-General of the United Nations; the European Community; the quartet—the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Israel—(Time expired)

Question agreed to.

Main Committee adjourned at 12.52 p.m.