Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Australia's abstention and fear of losing Arab-Australian votes

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Julia Gillard has been forced to withdraw support for Israel regarding this week's upcoming UN vote to give Palestine observer status. The majority of Gillard's cabinet, including foreign minister and Israel apologist Bob Carr, pressured her to abstain from voting instead of voting no.

From the article:
"Ms Gillard told the caucus meeting that her personal view was to vote no because she believed the UN vote, which will pass easily with the overwhelming support of UN member states, would hurt the peace process because the US has threatened to withdraw funding for the Palestinian Authority."
Right. If I had a dollar for every time I've read or heard a person say "it will hurt the peace process" - that farce of a process, the non-existent process, the sham of a process, a hollow initiative, an empty gesture, an illusion - I'd be able to buy out the Palestinian Authority from the United States and Israel. 

So, according to the article, where did this pressure come from and why is Australia going to abstain?
  • Former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans warned Labor MPs that "they would be on the wrong side of history if they stood with the US and Israel against the rest of the world". Perhaps Israel's current siege on Gaza is rustling some jimmies?
  • The pro-Palestinian Labor left want Gillard to vote for the resolution - to stand on the right side of history.
  • Labor right members, surprisingly, support an abstention because it feels that the government is too pro-Israel.
  • MPs in western Sydney are worried about losing their seats - they are coming under a lot of pressure from constituents with Middle Eastern/Arab backgrounds.

How significant is an abstention?

In the large scheme of things (like, you know, apartheid and this thing called occupation), it's not very significant at all. A "yes" vote would have been a step forward for Australia. An abstention is fence-sitting. And neutrality in the face of injustice and remaining silent is complicity. 

However, in saying that, an abstention is still better than an outright no, which the US and Israel were relying on. And given that Australia voted against UNESCO membership for Palestinians this year, this is at least some sort of advancement, particularly since Australia will be abstaining from its newly secured Security Council seat. Australian politicians are slowly recognising and acting on the Australian people's growing support for Palestine and Palestinian self-determination.


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