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Monday, 22 May 2017
Page: 4754

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (18:16): 'The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, the courage to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.' They are the words of Pope Francis during his visit to the Holy Land in 2014. I believe they reflect much of the views of all those who seek a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

My upbringing caused me to know from a young age that Jews have been historically a much-persecuted people; therefore, I find it easy to accept the right of the Jewish state to exist, and I believe that the people of Israel are entitled to live in peace and to protect their way of life. However, I have to say that I have become increasingly concerned about the hostilities in Israel's occupied territories and the lack of progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state. Indeed, I believe that the Palestinians too have a right to exist and enjoy statehood.

In 2014, the Gaza war had a profound impact on me. This was a conflict which saw Israel attempt to suppress the hostile attacks of Hamas, resulting in the deaths of some 1,500 Palestinians, of which 538 were children. Gaza was decimated and critical infrastructure destroyed, along with the housing of more than 100,000 Palestinians. I still find it hard to shake the images of the four young boys playing on the beach at Gaza who were cut down. While I have serious misgivings about the scale of the Israeli response, I am equally disturbed by the fact that civilian sites were used by Hamas to shield the militia, and I deplore the fact that over 30,000 rockets were fired by Hamas, threatening the lives of Israeli citizens. Nevertheless, no fair-minded person could possibly have thought that the response to those attacks at Gaza was proportionate.

With a view to a lasting peace in the region, I recognise the decency of all people, and certainly the international community has long held the expectation of a two-state solution recognising the sovereignty of both Israel and Palestine. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he took office in 2009, spoke of his determination to see the two peoples live with amity and mutual respect and indicated that Israel would be ready to support a two-state solution in a future peace agreement.

However, the behaviour of Mr Netanyahu and members of his government in the lead up to the last election caused doubts in the minds of many people. I know that many of those sit opposite. It caused doubt as to whether they were truly going to seek a two-state solution. The international community should be demanding an unequivocal commitment to a two-state solution and also the reinvigoration of the peace process itself. I am aware that, since coming to office in 2009, more than 14,000 homes have been built in the occupied territories. The issue of settlement remains an active one and continues to frustrate the peace process. Clearly, the construction of the settlements must cease.

There can be no doubt that a two-state solution is in the best interest of Israel itself. The consequences of trying to absorb the territories will simply lead either to the end of Israel's democracy, if the Palestinians were denied a vote, or to the end of Israel as a predominantly Jewish state and a haven for Jews escaping persecution. Clearly, a country like Australia, along with many others, could not accept a situation of a population being denied its fundamental democratic rights—surely Israel knows this. It cannot be allowed to be considered as an outcome.

Given the comments by President Netanyahu and senior members of his Likud party to distance themselves in the past from a two-state solution, I believe it falls to countries of good will, such as Australia, who believe in the dignity of all peoples of the region, to become more engaged in the peace process, addressing the need for tangible progress in the creation of a Palestinian state while ensuring the respect and security of the Jewish homeland. I will conclude with the words of Pope Benedict: 'Let the two-state solution become a reality and not simply remain a dream.'