SIMON BIRMINGHAM: By urging Palestinian statehood Penny Wong is acquiescing to terrorists

Simon Birmingham
The Nightly
The timing of Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s speech was downright reckless.
The timing of Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s speech was downright reckless. Credit: Australian National University

Never give in to terrorists. Google that phrase. You’ll be surprised, or maybe not, by how many political leaders have said it.

Today, the question is being asked whether the Albanese Government is giving Hamas terrorists something they want.

In a big speech, extensively briefed out to media, Foreign Minister Penny Wong leant in hard to argue for faster, unilateral, recognition of a Palestinian state, reversing the longstanding position of Australia and our partners that recognition should be negotiated to deliver both Palestinians and Israelis peace and security within internationally-recognised borders.

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The timing of this speech is downright reckless. Exactly six months since the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, ceasefire talks are underway in Cairo, where Hamas co-operation is politely being described as “less than encouraging.”

At the same time as Wong’s speech, United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan urged the world to “train the attention where it belongs, which is the world should say at this moment that ‘Hamas, it’s time. Let’s get that ceasefire”.

Rather than putting pressure on Hamas to change course and agree to release the hostages it has held since October 7, the Albanese Government is choosing to instead signal to Hamas that their pressure is helping to get a policy change they want.

The Albanese Government’s argument to pre-emptively recognise a Palestinian state puts statehood, and domestic politics, before security. Faster recognition would be seen as a win by the terrorists who initiated the current horrific conflict.

Penny Wong stated in her speech to the ANU National Security College that: “a secure and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians will only come with a two-state solution.”

The reality, however, is that a two-state solution will only be possible with security, and confidence that the right of each party to exist will be respected by the other.

Hamas’ attacks of October 7, deliberately slaughtering more Jews than on any single day since The Holocaust, shattered any sense of security and, in their own words, was an attack on Israel’s right to exist.

Hamas’s embedding of its terrorist leaders and infrastructure, along with the hostages it has illegally held since October 7, among innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure, has only compounded the tragic loss of life from this conflict.

Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham. Credit: Jono Searle/AAPImage

It is downright dangerous to reward such barbaric conduct with a one-sided fast track to recognition of statehood.

To give the greatest chance for a sustainable ceasefire, that leads to prospects for stability and security, Labor should instead be applying maximum pressure on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages and surrender all terrorist capabilities.

Senator Wong erroneously claims that Israel’s normalisation of relations with neighbouring Arab states “cannot proceed without progress on Palestinian statehood”.

This is demonstrably false. Since the Abraham Accords in 2020 Israel has normalised relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, in addition to earlier breakthroughs with countries such as Jordan and Egypt.

Most experts agree that the timing of the Hamas attacks last year, aided and abetted by Iran, was deliberately scheduled to disrupt normalisation of negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

A responsible minister would talk up the progress that has been made by good diplomacy, rather than suggesting capitulation to the disruption caused by terrorists.

Senator Wong’s speech presents more questions than answers about the Albanese Government’s intentions. While talking up faster recognition, Penny Wong also says that a future Palestinian state can have “no role for Hamas … cannot be in a position to threaten Israel’s security … and will need a reformed Palestinian Authority”.

But Senator Wong has so far refused to answer journalists’ questions about how Hamas should be removed, and what action Australia is taking to support their removal.

None of Labor’s claimed pre-conditions will happen quickly. So, is Senator Wong’s speech just posturing, or will they compromise on their own conditions?

The Albanese Government needs to urgently clarify whether these are unconditional prerequisites for any recognition by Labor of a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Albanese must guarantee not to undertake recognition while Hamas still commands the capacity to attack, Israel’s security remains threatened by those who promote violence, and the Palestinian Authority is crippled by incompetence.

Labor’s new approach threatens to break decades of bipartisan Australian foreign policy that recognition of a Palestinian state should only occur as part of a negotiated solution, which gives Israel and a future Palestinian state security within internationally recognised borders.

We all wish to see the bloodshed end, decades of violence cease being perpetuated and the legitimate rights of all peoples upheld. But peace and security will not be achieved by potentially emboldening terrorists.

Before the 2022 election Labor promised the Australian Jewish community there was “no difference” between the major parties on matters relating to the Middle East.

Our Jewish community needs our support and consistency more than ever. The Prime Minister should demonstrate leadership by shutting down talk of premature recognition, standing firm against Hamas terrorists and stopping this reckless pursuit of Greens votes.

Simon Birmingham is the shadow minister for foreign affairs.

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