The Australian Government was reportedly engaged in an especially robust party-room debate today. The Labor caucus was discussing the position to take on the United General Assembly vote set to take place in the coming days. This motion, if successful, would grant the Palestinian territories non-member observer status in the UN. Currently, the Palestinians have observer status.
After looking like the ALP caucus might vote ‘no’ to the motion, it soon emerged that the party-room, in the end, voted in favour of the Australian delegation abstaining from this highly non-controversial vote.
Not surprisingly, the United States of America and of course Israel, have indicated they will be voting against the motion in the UN General Assembly.
Unlike in the Security Council though, the US and Israelis voting against the measure will not matter. There is no veto power in the General Assembly and 132 of the 193 member countries have pledged recognition of Palestine as a state. Despite this, official recognition of statehood has been blocked in the United Nations Security Council.
During the ALP caucus discussions this morning, members of the left faction reportedly indicated that granting observer status would provide some assistance in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This is an interesting concept. The position argues that by granting non-member state observer state status, the longstanding conflict would suddenly lurch closer to some form of mutually agreeable conclusion.
Clearly it will not. Hostilities on the part of Palestinian terror groups will not stop, at least until a broad solution involving Palestinian statehood is reached.
Terrorist acts on the part of some Palestinian factions would quite likely continue, even in the event of a negotiated peace between authorities on both sides of the conflict. They would however be more isolated and not necessarily linked with representative political organisations.
However, such heinous crimes would still not be tolerable, no matter how infrequent. The point must be made too, that both sides are and have been in the wrong on this issue, albeit in different ways.
The reluctance on the part of the Israelis and the USA to recognise Palestine as an official state would also continue, virtually leaving the situation at the status quo. Non-member state observer status will be a symbolic act.
Granting non-member state observer status is however one that the Israeli government should not be scared of. But they are and they will probably be annoyed. They need to realise, however, that there is a clear difference between a vote for non-member state observer status and a peaceful two-state solution. The latter should be negotiated outside the United Nations.
It is curious that Australia will abstain from the vote. Abstention, to some, gives the appearance that Australia is basically hedging their bets.
Abstaining from the vote will likely be seen by the representatives of the Palestinian territories as a vote against their motion, since the Australian Government does not feel a compulsion to vote for what is ostensibly a sensible concept.
This week’s vote is not about statehood and probably will not provide much of a catalyst toward the Palestinian territories becoming a recognised state.
So why such a fuss?
Israel and Hamas have agreed to the terms of a ceasefire after over a week of rocket attacks perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. Hamas had been rocketing Israel and in return the Israelis sent missiles hurtling into Palestinian territories. Approximately 150 people died in the conflict, the vast majority being Palestinians.
Perhaps surprising to some, Egypt, now controlled by an Islamist government was crucial in negotiating the terms of a ceasefire agreement with Palestinian group, Hamas.
There are four elements of the agreement brokered between Israel and Hamas.
First, it calls on Israel to halt land, sea and air assaults and incursions in the Gaza Strip. This includes, as part of the deal, Israel agreeing not to target individuals in Palestinian territories.
The first part of the ceasefire agreement would appear likely to hold now, with the world’s attention, for at least as long as the Palestinians stop firing rockets into Israel.
Although Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories are a major factor in the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, this part too seems likely to hold as long as rockets from Palestinian territories are not fired.
The second condition of the ceasefire involves all Palestinian factions. Under the ceasefire, they must not target Israel in any way, be it from the Gaza Strip or the border regions.
The second condition, largely the reverse of the first one, is less likely to hold. There are multiple groups on the Palestinian side with factions that will prove very difficult to control and there is the distinct possibility that possible militant attacks from outside groups might easily be mistaken as originating from Palestinian terrorists.
Ceasefires in general are tenuous and, as such, it will probably be just a matter of time before both the first and second elements of the accord are broken.
The third and perhaps most significant element of the ceasefire is an agreement to open all border crossings. This includes an understanding that the movement of both people and goods must be facilitated and must in all cases be free. Again, this involves an understanding that border residents not be targeted, this time when attempting border crossings. However, this clause of the ceasefire is not immediate. After 24 hours of the ceasefire have passed, this tenet will come into effect.
The third part of the pact is very important. However, if the ceasefire does not last more than a day, then Israel will again close her borders and the free movement of people will cease again.
If the ceasefire does hold and that is very unlikely, then Israel stopping incursions and allowing border crossings will be seen quite favourably by most factions on the Palestinian side.
The final clause is potentially important too in terms of long-term considerations in that it opens up the possibility of further dialogue. The fourth part of the ceasefire equation allows for the negotiation of further issues involved in the dispute between Israel and Palestine.
The fourth part of the ceasefire does provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue which might lead to discussion of the important and substantive issues in the medium to long-term. However getting to that point would almost certainly hinge upon a well-maintained ceasefire between Israel and Hamas at the very least.
There are a number of small positives but it would appear that they are largely overshadowed by the likelihood of an enduring ceasefire being minimal at best.
The part that Egypt played is interesting and provides hope, but the assistance provided to Hamas from Iran would give pause for concern, over and above the usual fragility of ceasefire agreements.
Having so many disparate groups on the Palestinian side is also a challenge in terms of maintaining order in Israel and the Palestinian territories on any given day.
Add to that the realisation that the conflict involves far more than just territorial considerations, but also regional issues and extremism, and seeking a lasting peace becomes an even more challenging task.