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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 10366

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (16:55): On this International Day of Democracy I want to reflect on the fact that Australia will shortly need to decide how it will vote when a motion is put before the United Nations General Assembly seeking recognition of a Palestinian state. Australia was actively involved in the partition plan in the early days of the United Nations, through which it was always intended that the two states of Israel and Palestine would be created. It is also Australian government policy to support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Israel already is a viable, independent and sovereign state. This is not in doubt or under any threat, notwithstanding the ongoing regional security challenges. The question is simply whether it is now time for the Palestinians to have their own state, for the Palestinians to no longer be stateless persons. Article 1 in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide that all peoples have the right of self-determination. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to their own nationality.

As part of a Swiss initiative to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration, a research project on statelessness found:

It is an irrefutable fact that the denial and deprivation of citizenship and the creation of statelessness undermines the promotion of human security understood in the broadest sense as not only violent threats to individuals but also in the context of vulnerabilities caused by poverty, lack of state capacity and various forms of socio-economic and political inequity. The negative effects of denying people their rights to nationality and citizenship are illustrated across the globe where by disenfranchising significant populations, states have sown the seeds for underdevelopment and unrest as, for instance, in Bangladesh and the Great Lakes region of Africa as well as in Palestine and Israel and the surrounding states.

As I witnessed on my recent visit to Palestine as part of a parliamentary study tour, the Palestinian Authority has made great strides in readying institutions of state and security in the West Bank. This institutional progress has been acknowledged by Israel, the EU, the US, the IMF and the World Bank. On the other hand, the isolation and blockade of Gaza has been counterproductive from a security, economic and human development perspective. In my view, the rapprochement between the different Palestinian factions is an opportunity for stability in Gaza and a moderation in approach, while continued isolation will only result in further radicalisation within Gaza and associated impacts on Israel.

Arguably, the readiness for statehood of the Palestinians is greater than was the case when the independent states of East Timor and, more recently, South Sudan were established. Certainly, the peace is greater than at the time of the Northern Ireland peace agreement brokered by George Mitchell. I do not believe that extremists on either side of this conflict should be allowed to derail the hopes of the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians for permanent peace. I have heard some people say that they support a two-state solution, but just not now. They say that such a state should arise from negotiations directly between Israelis and Palestinians and not from outside processes. However, statehood itself is not a matter that should be subjected to a negotiation process. The final status issues between the Israelis and Palestinians—namely, final borders, including agreed land swaps, security, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and water—must certainly be negotiated, and such negotiations should occur as quickly as possible. But this should not affect the principal decision that the Palestinians have their own state, as this is an objective to which the parties themselves and the international community, including Australia, have been dedicated for decades.

It appears that the majority of countries in the world agree, with around 130 countries so far pledging their support to the Palestinians for a yes vote at the UN. What effect would such a UN resolution have? In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 September, Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney Ben Saul described the situation:

A UN resolution recognising statehood might imply that many countries believe Palestine is, in fact, a state. This would be a powerful indication of global legal opinion. It could help nudge statehood across the line where criteria such as independent government are otherwise uncertain.

Israel claims that a unilateral declaration of statehood would be illegal, because the Oslo Accords of 1993 require negotiation of ''permanent status''. The Palestinians might argue that Oslo is void because of Israel's long delay (18 years) and bad faith (continuing to build illegal settlements). The recent Kosovo precedent also helps Palestine. It might be remembered that Israel itself unilaterally declared independence, secured by violence.

If Palestine became a state, the game would change. It would instantly delegitimise the Israeli occupation, and have practical effects.

A yes vote for Palestine by Australia at the UN would be consistent with long-held bipartisan government policy in support of a two-state solution. It is my hope that resolution of the final status issues would soon follow so that peace may finally come to these two great peoples.

House adjourned at 17:00