Calls for Australia to recognize state of Palestine intensify as Penny Wong refuses to commit to timeline

Daniel Hurst

The Guardian  /  November 10, 2022

Foreign minister says decisions on recognizing the state of Palestine are a ‘matter for government’ despite prior resolution from Labor national conferences.

Palestinian advocates have called on the Australian government to honour its promises after Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong declined to commit to a timetable for recognising Palestinian statehood.

On Thursday the foreign affairs minister acknowledged a lack of progress towards a two-state solution had consequences for the Palestinian people, but said she could not predict the future.

Distancing herself from the Labor party platform, Wong said any decisions on recognizing Palestinian statehood would be “a matter for government”.

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network said recognizing the state of Palestine was “the easiest and simplest step this government can take to join the majority of the world’s nations and support a peaceful resolution”.

“Honouring their promise, and recognizing the State of Palestine, is the least this Labor government can do,” the network’s president, Nasser Mashni, said.

“At a time when UN experts and the world’s leading human rights organisations are openly labelling Israel’s policies against Palestinians as the crime of apartheid, we would hope our government would be taking greater action in supporting the Palestinian people in their demand for justice.”

In 2018 and 2021, Labor’s national conference backed a resolution that “supports the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders” and “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a state”.

The resolutions said the party expected “that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”.

But the Australian government “does not recognize the State of Palestine”, said Marc Innes-Brown, a first assistant secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“We obviously acknowledge their future aspirations for statehood but we at this time do not recognize a state of Palestine,” Innes-Brown told a Senate estimates committee hearing on Thursday.

Wong said the government urged all sides to “resume negotiations towards a just and enduring two-state solution”.

When asked by the Coalition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, whether the government’s stance on Palestinian statehood would remain unchanged during this three-year term, Wong replied: “You’re asking me to foresee the future.”

Attempting not to be locked into a position, Wong distinguished the platform endorsed by Labor party delegates from the Labor government’s position.

“The resolution that the Labor party has arrived at is an expression from the national conference about the will of the national conference but a recognition that this is a matter for government,” Wong said.

“Just as there are communities who feel deeply supportive – as the Labor party has been – of the establishment of the state of Israel and the right of Israel to live in security behind internationally recognized borders, there are also people who have a very strong view about the lack of progress towards a two-state solution and the consequences of that for the Palestinian people.”

The independent MP Andrew Wilkie commended the Australian government’s “reset” on the status of Jerusalem.

“But now we must also recognize Palestine, call for Israeli accountability in international courts, and compel Israel to allow Palestinians to have the most basic of rights, self-determination,” Wilkie told parliament on Thursday.

During the Senate hearing, Wong acknowledged shortcomings in the process the Albanese government followed to reverse the former Morrison government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Wong said the change in language on the Dfat website on 17 October was “a mistake” because it happened before government processes were completed. The change was reported by Guardian Australia the same day.

Cabinet fast-tracked the decision the next morning to avoid prolonged confusion about its position.

Wong said that meant “there was not the consultation and advice that would usually occur” including with Australia’s own ambassador to Israel, Paul Griffiths, who initially liked a tweet quoting the minister as saying the government’s position was unchanged.

Griffiths was called in to Israel’s foreign ministry hours later for the Israeli government to register what it called its “deep disappointment in the face of the Australian government’s decision resulting from short-sighted political considerations”.

Asked whether she always intended to make the announcement at that time, Wong said: “No. I don’t generally do things that way … I like to be a little more prepared.”

She added: “It’s pretty obvious there was no communications plan.”

Israel’s embassy in Australia was contacted for comment.

Daniel Hurst is Guardian Australia’s foreign affairs and defence correspondent