Commentary Magazine


Missing John Howard

The United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was a defeat for Obama administration diplomacy. The problem for Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was not their opposition to Palestinian statehood: Obama is certainly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as are most within the State Department. In this, as the press often forgets, they also join most Israelis who desire a two-state solution, albeit it one that will guarantee peace and security. The problem with the UN vote—and the reason for the U.S. vote against—was its unilateralism: The Palestinians had committed at Oslo to negotiate with Israel as a condition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, and for the last four years, this they have refused to do, choosing instead to cast aside their earlier commitments just the same as Hamas has refused to abide by commitments made by their predecessors in the Palestinian parliament.

Regardless, why did so many countries break from precedent and their promises and vote against the U.S. position? Seth Mandel tackled this last week. From Melbourne, Australia, however, AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein flags a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stepped down five years ago yesterday, in which he addressed the UN vote:

If we are to achieve what we all want – peace based upon a two-State solution… If we are to achieve that, we will not achieve it by constantly providing incentives to the Palestinians to walk away from the negotiating table and that is basically what is involved in this current proposition before the General Assembly of the United Nations. The only way in which lasting peace can be achieved and I know it is the heartfelt of the people of Israel and the heartfelt desire of the Jewish community in Australia and I am sure it is the heartfelt desire of millions of Palestinians as well, is by total acceptance on both sides of the right of others to exist to secure and internationally respected boundaries and until those on the Palestinian side fully accept and understand that peace cannot be achieved unless they unconditionally accept Israel’s right to exist, we are not really going to have any hope of achieving that peace.

In my opinion this resolution before the General Assembly of United Nations will make it less likely that that acceptance from groups such as Hamas and others will come rather than walk away and I fail to understand the logic of the arguments that have been advanced by some who claim that this will make peace more likely and make it more likely that meaningful negotiations can be begin in the interim…

He continued to recount his experience into the negotiations which occurred during his terms as prime minister:

The offer that was made by Barak approximated to well over 90% of what the Palestinians had been arguing that they wanted but that did not come about because in the end Arafat was unwilling, unable or whatever combination of the two to finally agree with President Clinton at Camp David in the dying days of President Clinton’s presidency… With that experience vividly in my mind I have always greeted with extraordinary skepticism the criticisms that have been made of the alleged intransigence of the people of Israel and the governments of Israel on this issue. I know this is a difficult issue and I guess everybody, no matter what opinion you take, despairs of this ever achieving an outcome but it will eventually if people of goodwill continue to pursue it but if they pursue it from a position of strength and in the case of Israel that of course includes her continuing right to effectively respond in a retaliatory fashion against rocket attacks and incursions on her sovereignty and threats to the life and safety and liberty of her people.

Australia lost a great deal of its prestige and diplomatic muscle when John Howard stepped down, and most Australians—even those who were Howard’s detractors at the time—recognize it. America is fortunate that we still do have clear-sighted allies in Canadian Premier Stephen Harper and Czech President Václav Klaus. A sound strategy would reward such leaders, rather than take them for granted.

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