Rudd Addresses the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum

December 14, 2010 Agencies
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Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has addressed the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in Jerusalem on “Future Directions for the Middle East Peace Process”.

Kevin Rudd’s address:

It is an honour to be among Israeli and Australian friends tonight here in Jerusalem, at the King David Hotel.

Shimon Peres, Israel‘s President, who we met earlier today, said some years ago that when you come to the King David, you come not just as a guest, but you come also to a place which has seen almost the complete cast of players across the history of the modern state of Israel, often in this room in which we gather here tonight.

From the 1930s, this hotel became the British field headquarters for what was then British Palestine, until Menachem Begin undertook some interior redesign. When the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948, it was here that Ben-Gurion afterwards began receiving foreign heads of state and foreign heads of government.

It was here that Henry Kissinger, together with Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan concluded his shuttle diplomacy that brought to an end the days of the Yom Kippur war. It was here Menachem Begin hosted Anwar al-Sadat’s historic visit of 1977.

And so it is here, physically here, with a genuine sense of the history of this grand establishment, and this great room, that we gather tonight to reflect once again among friends on Israel’s past, and most critically, on Israel’s future.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Kevin Rudd pic: Mati Milstein

Many of us in this room were privileged today to hear again from Shimon Peres – a living treasure of Israel and I believe one of the world’s truly wise men.

Shimon said earlier today that as we deal with the problems of our current age, we should not be trapped by the language of the past, but rather engage in the language of the future; the language of the generation of today. The language of the generation which thinks increasingly beyond that which is local, beyond that which is national, to that which is truly global.

Because the generation of tomorrow thinks beyond the nation in which they were born. A generation which instinctively sees the interconnectedness of things; the interconnectedness of the issues we confront and the fact that practically none of them today can be dealt with by solutions which lie exclusively within our national control.

Be it security; the economy; almost by definition climate change, our national solutions are increasingly regional solutions and increasingly global solutions. There is indeed much wisdom in Shimon Peres’s observations.

And so it is with this sense not just of the present, but also of the future, that I address tonight this gathering, and reflect on some remarks about the future of the Peace Process.

Not just the formidable challenges that Israel faces now, but also the great opportunities which could be realised, if in fact we can yield a secure and lasting peace.

Australia and Israel go back a long, long way. In fact right to the very beginning. My distinguished predecessor as foreign minister, Foreign Minister Evatt, chaired the UN Commission on Palestine in 1947, and his colleague that that time was ‘Buji’ Herzog’s uncle, then Foreign Minister of Israel.

This was the commission that recommended the establishment of both an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. And when its recommendations were taken to the UN General Assembly, Australia was the first state to vote in support of the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

In the lead-up to that vote, what is less known is that Australian Prime Minister Chifley actively lobbied President Truman and British Prime Minister Attlee to gain their support for this critical vote – given the public reservations at that time in both the United States and the United Kingdom, about the desirability of this State of Israel coming into being.

And in an appropriate conclusion to the Australian engagement with the birth of modern Israel, Australian Foreign Minister Evatt was President of the UN General Assembly when that vote on Israel was taken – and with the use of Evatt’s gavel the establishment of Israel was formally declared.

Of course in the years following the war, Australia also received tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors and other Jewish refugees from Europe as they came to Australia to make their home.

Israeli President Shimon Peres greets Kevin Rudd pic: Mati Milstein

Regrettably, history records that we were not always so generous. As I acknowledged last night at Yad Vashem, when Australia met with 31 other nations at the Evian Conference in 1938, we refused to open our hearts and we refused to open our doors to the Jewish people of Europe despite the unfolding persecution against them.

Disgracefully, our representative at the time said we could not help, that Australia had no racial problems at the time, nor did not wish to import any.

The ancient scriptures have long enjoined us all never to harden our hearts, and yet still we and the other Christian nations of the world did just that. There were, however, people of conscience around the world at that time; people who through conscience railed against injustice wherever they saw it.

As our Australian friends would know, I have long been an admirer of German Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a man who railed against the Nazis from the very beginning; who railed against the Aryan laws from the very beginning; a man who helped Jews escape from Nazi Germany, and a man who ultimately paid the price of his life for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler.

There were other courageous acts around the world. There were other noble acts of conscience around the world at that time, including in our country Australia. Again at Yad Vashem we honoured one such act of conscience by William Cooper. For our Israeli friends tonight who were not with us last night at Yad Vashem, let me briefly recall what William Cooper did.

William Cooper was a 77 year old Aboriginal man in Melbourne. When he read of Kristallnacht in 1938 he was moved to act. His form of protest was simple. He collected a petition calling for the cessation of the persecution of the Jews of Germany, and together with other members of the Aboriginal community, marched some ten kilometres from his home to the German consulate in Melbourne to deliver that petition. German consular officials refused to receive it.

For some this will seem a small story against the wider canvas of the persecution of the Jews and the unspeakable obscenity of what then became the Holocaust.

And against the millions who suffered and the millions who died, indeed it was a small story.

But it is a small story which speaks with eloquence and effect to any age. Because at its heart it is a story of an Indigenous man who understood from his own experience what injustice was, and what it meant. And as a consequence, refused to be silent when he saw injustice being meted out to others on such an horrendous scale.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd lays a wreath at Yad Vashem Pic Mati Miltstein

And the truth is this; had the governments of the time acted with the same courage, with the same commitment and principle as William Cooper, the history of the Jewish people would have been a vastly different history to the one that then tragically unfolded.

So why do I reflect on these things at some length this evening? To say to our Israeli friends that none of us come to the history of modern Israel with hands that are completely clean.

But in Australia, through the actions of successive governments since the war, governments of the two great political traditions represented in this room tonight, we have honoured our friendship with Israel in good times and in bad. We have supported you in all the major wars you have fought; because in Australia you are among friends.

The modern state of Israel continues to face many security challenges.

The Iranian leaders’ proclamation that Israel should be removed from the map of the world was a chilling reminder of the rank antisemitism from decades past. Iran’s nuclear program is a threat not only to Israel but to all states of the wider region and beyond. That is why we in Australia have not only supported UN Security Council sanctions against Iran; we have also initiated and legislated for our own autonomous sanctions against Tehran and have urged others to do the same.

Iran also casts a shadow over both Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s sponsorship of the terrorist organisation Hezbollah is a direct threat to security; similarly, the operations of the terrorist organisation Hamas; together with the continuing threat of rockets targeting Israeli communities.

Israel does not therefore face anything approximating a normal or benign security environment. It does not. It is for these reasons that Australia continues to support a range of UN operations in this region.

Three days ago I visited our troops in the Sinai Multinational Force, barely a dozen kilometres from Gaza where they continue the mission which they began back in 1982. For nearly thirty years, Australians continue to commit that peace-keeping operation. And I met this morning with senior Australian representatives on the staff of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative here in Jerusalem. Therefore, in these practical ways, we also seek to share some of the security burden that continues to fall decisively on the shoulders of Israel.

A core component of Israel’s long-term security needs is a successful conclusion to the Middle East Peace Process. Australia’s position, like that of many other states, has long been to support a two state solution.

This is important, not just so that Israel can live in peace and security but also get on with the task of long-term economic development for itself; to raise its people’s living standards; to ensure that employment and jobs are generated for all Israelis. But such an outcome, such a successful conclusion to the peace process would also provide the same opportunity to the Palestinian people.

The Middle East Peace Process has a long and chequered history. It has gone through permeations and combinations over forty years, since the six day war of 1967.

History is now littered with initiatives, some enjoying partial success, others not: The Camp David accords; The Madrid conference; The Oslo accords;

Taba Summit;

Wye River;

Sharm el Sheikh;

The failure of Camp David II;

The Arab Peace Initiative;

The Roadmap for Peace;

The role of the Quartet of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN since 2003;

The Annapolis conferences convened by President Bush, between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, aimed at relaunching the peace process:

And through to the present; through to the efforts of the Obama administration right up to Secretary of State Clinton’s speech at the Saban Centre in Washington just a couple of days ago.

In fact, sometimes it seems as if we have been wandering in the desert for the last forty years.

We are all familiar with the great questions which need to be resolved for the future; the delineation of borders; the future of refugees; the status of Jerusalem; security arrangements that would allow both states to live in peace and real security.

Australia supports Secretary Clinton’s efforts to sustain the momentum of the process.

As the Secretary said at the Saban Centre, “For two years, you have heard me and others emphasise again and again that negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations: for the Israelis, security and recognition, for the Palestinians; an independent viable, sovereign state of their own.

“This remains true today. There is no alternative other than reaching mutual agreement. The stakes are too high, the pain too deep and the issues too complex for any other approach.”

The United States will now deal directly with both the parties for them to lay out their positions on the core outstanding issues with real specificity.

The US has also indicated it will offer its own ideas and bridging proposals where appropriate. We in Australia support the Secretary’s initiative.

In the end, however, this will be a matter for both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government at their highest levels to determine. Otherwise it will not work; otherwise it cannot work.

We in Australia, as both a friend of Israel and as a supporter of the Palestinian people, believe that time is beginning to run out.

What we need to see is not another peace process. What we need to see is a peace outcome. What we don’t need to see is another roadmap. What we need to see instead is the destination to which the road takes us.

And I begin to fear that unless we seize the day that opportunities may begin to slip from our collective grasp as political factors and forces begin to change around us.

In recent weeks I have been travelling around the region. I have been listening carefully to foreign ministers and heads of government from across the Gulf States, from the Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen and beyond, in Egypt, Jordan, others in the Muslim world, the Palestinian Authority and of course Israel itself.

I am increasingly concerned that the window for peace may be beginning to close.

I am concerned about the possibility of the hardening of attitudes, among various Arab states, just as I am concerned by the dynamics of domestic politics beyond the Arab states.

I believe that it is important that we do not allow the process to drift. I believe that every effort must now be made to try to bring this process to a conclusion which satisfies the legitimate interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and their governments.

One of the questions we need to start asking is what happens to the security of Israel if the peace process collapses completely? What would be the impact on Israel’s security in two, three or five years from now? What would happen in terms of the possibility of the renewal of political violence in the West Bank, not just in Gaza?

I have been around long enough, and have visited this country often enough to know what it was like during the Second Intifada.

I remember touring then the Old City and touring it alone. There was no-one on the streets. People were afraid.

What would happen in terms of the current political posture of the moderate Arab states who have so long supported the peace process? What will happen in Egypt? What will happen in Jordan? And what dividend would a collapse in the peace process deliver to Iran and its quest for political legitimacy and the expansion of its diplomatic and security footprint across the wider Middle East and beyond?

These are the questions which must be considered carefully if we are to answer the question accurately: what will happen to Israel’s security if this peace process finally fails to deliver any real outcome?

Because the assumption of some – that the current security environment would simply continue indefinitely into the future – is open I believe to profound analytical challenge.

Of course there is another scenario to consider: That the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority do conclude a comprehensive peace settlement which guarantees the legitimate interests and security of both parties.

Under that scenario, consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative, Israel would be for the first time diplomatically recognised by states across the Arab world and states across the wider Islamic world.

This would represent a radical game change for the entire region and the world.

Not least would it potentially unite much of the Arab world with Israel in addressing the overarching strategic threat posed by Iran. And Iran remains the core strategic challenge faced by us all. Iran’s nuclear program and its support for international terrorist organisations would then come under challenge from across the Arab world, as well as for Israel.

And finally, the successful completion of a peace settlement would be a game changer not just for Israel’s, but also the wider Arab region’s future economic prospects.

Imagine a region in which 7.5 million Israelis suddenly had access to the massive markets represented by their combined Arab neighbours.

What would be the implications for economic growth, employment, rising living standards, and as a consequence across the Arab world, political de-radicalisation that could then follow as prosperity began to flow?

Again, I do not predict any of these scenarios. I simply pose them as scenarios worthy of careful analysis. These are decisions for Israel alone. These are decisions for Palestinians alone. No state should seek to impose any of these on the principle contracting parties, and nor would we suggest to do so ourselves.

Yes, the road ahead will be hard and yes it will involve risks. But it will also be worth it.

Let us reflect also on what former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once said, “The risks of peace are preferable to the grim certainties of war.”

In all this, as I conclude, I say to all our Israeli friends, that whatever the future holds through this peace process and beyond, you will forever have strong and reliable friends in Australia.

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