‘Be brave’: Palestine urges Penny Wong to break with US over war in Gaza
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The top Palestinian representative in Australia has urged Foreign Minister Penny Wong to be “brave” enough to break with the United States over the war in Gaza, arguing that Israel’s right to self-defence did not offer a license to kill an unlimited number of Palestinian civilians.
Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, the head of the general delegation of Palestine to Australia, warned that Israel’s war against Hamas has boosted the militant group’s popularity in the West Bank and Gaza, draining support from the more moderate and secular Palestinian Authority that he represents.
Izzat Abdulhadi, the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, has called for Australia to show independence from the United States.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
He said the federal government would make a major contribution to the Middle East peace process by immediately recognising Palestinian statehood and demanding an immediate ceasefire.
Abdulhadi met with Wong last week in Parliament House alongside diplomats from Indonesia and Algeria, where they pressed her to take a stronger line against Israel’s conduct in the war and its occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Abdulhadi said he emerged from the meeting disappointed because he got the impression that Wong would find it difficult to further harden her stance by calling for Israel to unilaterally end the war.
Asked about the meeting, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said: “Minister Wong reaffirmed Australia’s principled position, including Israel’s right to defend itself following the October 7 attack, the importance of all parties respecting international law, concern over the civilian toll and Australia’s support for international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire, recognising this cannot be one-sided.”
Wong is preparing to travel to Israel and the wider Middle East in January, and is expected to travel to the West Bank to meet with top Palestinian representatives.
“We are calling on her to have a brave stance about what’s happening in Gaza,” Abdulhadi said.
“I think leadership means sometimes to bear risk and take a principled position … Even if they support self-defence, this is not a carte blanche for Israel to kill, there’s not a license to kill.”
Abdulhadi said he was “very cautious” about applying terms such as genocide to the war, but accused Israel of committing a “really huge violation of human rights in Gaza”.
“Five thousand children being killed is something nobody can accept under any pretext,” he said.
Noting that Labor’s voting base includes many voters of Middle Eastern descent, he said: “I think it’s time for Australia not just to support the United States’ foreign policy.”
Abdulhadi added that it was “wishful thinking” to believe Hamas, a prescribed terror organisation in Australia, could be eliminated as a result of the war, triggered by the massacre of 1200 Israelis in a shock assault on October 7.
The Hamas media office said that more than 17,000 people have died since the start of the war, including more than 7000 children and 5000 women. Officials from the Israeli Defence Forces have said that around 5000 Hamas fighters have been killed in the war.
The Israeli government has argued that a permanent ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup and stage future attacks against Israeli civilians.
Abdulhadi represents the Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by Fatah, a rival political party to Hamas, and has administrative control over parts of the West Bank.
He said many Palestinians believed that the Palestinian Authority had “weak leadership” and that its strategy of non-violent resistance had not delivered good outcomes for the Palestinian people.
By contrast, many Palestinians believe Hamas are “like heroes” for fighting against the Israeli occupation and that they had restored a sense of dignity to the Palestinian cause.
Abdulhadi said that “in the views of the people, [Hamas] are really liberation fighters, resistance fighters, not a terrorist organisation”, an outcome he described as unfortunate given he supports non-violence and a two-state solution.
“[Israel] will not be able to eliminate Hamas because it is not just a set of forces – they are rooted in the Palestinian community, they won the elections in 2006, they have supporters,” he said.
A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza released in late November by the Arab World for Research and Development found that 75 per cent of respondents supported the October 7 attacks and that 86 per cent rejected co-existence with Israel.
Three-quarters of respondents said they viewed Hamas positively, while just 10 per cent said they viewed the Palestinian Authority positively.
Abdulhadi, who has represented Palestine in Australia since 2006, said the war in Gaza had strengthened the case for Australia to recognise Palestine as a state.
“I think the government surely should realise that the only solution is to recognise Palestine now,” he said.
“I think this will be a big contribution, a significant contribution to the peace process and to a durable, comprehensive peace in the region.”
Labor’s national platform calls on the party to recognise Palestinian statehood.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for the European Union to recognise Palestinian statehood last month, saying that Spain was open to making the move unilaterally if the bloc did not agree.
Currently, 138 of the 193 United Nations member states recognise Palestine as a state but most western democracies such as the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany and New Zealand do not.
Asked about the future of the Gaza Strip after the war, Abdulhadi said the idea of an international force governing the enclave was “not acceptable at all”.
“The only solution is the Palestinian Authority, but only with a comprehensive solution,” he said. “We will not go in on the back of the Israeli tanks.”
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