National Security

Transcript | Sky News News Day | 10 April 2024

April 10, 2024

Wednesday 10 April 2024
Interview on Sky News News Day
Subjects: Penny Wong's irresponsible rhetoric on Palestinian statehood

TOM CONNELL: Joining me live is Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Paterson. Thanks for your time. The caveats are major. There could be no role at all for Hamas and no threat to Israel. That's close I mean, they're the key ingredients for a two-state solution anyway, aren't they?

JAMES PATERSON: I think there's two possibilities here, Tom. One is that the government actually has no intention of following through in prematurely recognising, unilaterally, a Palestinian state. In which case Penny Wong is irresponsibly playing to a domestic political audience on a hugely sensitive international security issue. Or they genuinely do intend to break with decades of bipartisan policy in Australia on Israel-Palestine, which is that we do support a two state solution, but not unilaterally imposed from the outside, one that can only come after a successful peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Now, neither of those things are good. I'm in the camp that I think they are looking like they are going to very seriously walk away from this. Let's remember Labor's said before the last election there was no difference between the major parties on Israel. That is now looking like it was a lie.

CONNELL: We'll see what happens. As I said, she wants a debate. My understanding is this would go through cabinet. Would it offer, though, something concrete in terms of encouragement? Because I should just mention, by the way, it's not just Australia doing it, the US and the UK both hinting at the same position, aren't they? Would that make us less of an outlier?

PATERSON: I think it's inconceivable that the United States would prematurely recognise Palestinian state, utterly inconceivable.

CONNELL: Do you think the UK could? Does that seem more likely?

PATERSON: Perhaps it's slightly more likely, but I think also very unlikely. No Five Eyes country has prematurely recognised a Palestinian state. There are some countries in the world who have, but not the normal countries we vote with in the United Nations, not the ones who we share values with or perspective with. This would be a huge departure from Western policy to this issue, and with good reason why it would be a big departure. Because how can we possibly recognise a Palestinian state that is in part controlled by a terrorist organisation?

CONNELL: Well, that's the key. They wouldn't be in control if they were doing this. This is the caveat from Penny Wong.

PATERSON: Ok, so what is Penny Wong's plan to remove Hamas from Gaza? Because she also says there needs to be a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza. That the IDF should stop all operation all operations in Gaza.

CONNELL: Wouldn't this idea be that what this says to the Palestinian people is if indeed, particularly if it goes beyond Australia? I mean, we don't want to overstate Australia's influence on this. If you really do. You know, decide you don't want Hamas anymore. So say the people do revolt. There's something concrete you get out of it. This is this is not just lip service. Get rid of Hamas and you get some recognition.

PATERSON: I think it's the opposite signal, which is that no matter how bad the conduct of Hamas or Fatah or any of the Palestinian factions are, you can still get international recognition from Western democracy.

CONNELL: But they won't get it if Hamas is there? The caveat she's given.

PATERSON: I'm very sceptical about the Australian government’s ability to enforce that caveat. And you wouldn't float this unless she was serious about proceeding with it. Let's remember, if Hamas on the 6th of October, when they were planning this operation in their wildest dreams, they would not have thought that the response to the slaughter of the largest number of Jews since the Holocaust would be that a country like Australia would recognise a Palestinian state. That is not what they would have dreamed of, but that is what this government is proposing.

CONNELL: They probably wouldn't dream of being kicked out of power though. So I know you said the Australian government can't enforce it. I mean, I don't think they're talking about enforcing it. It's a condition that has to exist.

PATERSON: Well not only can we not enforce it, the current position of the Australian government is not even to support the removal of Hamas. Penny Wong says the war in Gaza should stop now. That means the four brigades of Hamas who remain in Rafah will control Rafah and as the IDF withdraws, ultimately will take control over Gaza again.

CONNELL: The only way in which Hamas leaves is not by their own will is it? It's the people would in some way oust them. That's what needs to happen. Isn't this a message to Palestinian people as much as to anyone else? Your future is not with Hamas.

PATERSON: Well, Hamas has been in power in Gaza for almost 20 years. There's been no sign at all of any successful attempt to remove them from power.

CONNELL: There has been various polling though suggesting, I think particularly at the start that they weren't all that popular. They sort of seized power. There has been recent polling suggesting perhaps they're growing in popularity.

PATERSON: After the IDF unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas won elections and then used that position to destroy all rivals to power in Gaza, and since then have faced no meaningful resistance within Gaza. So the idea that we will allow them to retain control of Rafah, withdraw the IDF, ultimately take Gaza, and then somehow they're going to walk away while the Palestinian people are going to throw them out is ludicrous. And it is it is a real contradiction at the heart of this policy.

CONNELL: That would be the only way they would. I'm not saying they walk away, but there's got to be a possibility. One day the Palestinians decide their future is not with Hamas.

PATERSON: Well, I wish them the best in that. And I agree that the future is not with Hamas, but I'm not sure how with Hamas in control of Gaza and the reign of terror that I have wrought in Gaza, with the systematic removal of all rivals to power that the people of Gaza are in any position to do that.

CONNELL: That position, though, again, if we go over that from Penny Wong, that's the caveat. Isn't that a reasonable caveat to have. You say we can't enforce it. I'm not saying we can enforce that. I don't think she's saying that either. Maybe that makes it a perfectly reasonable policy, because if if Hamas has actually somehow run out, that would be a very different looking situation all of a sudden.

PATERSON: We can all dream about that possibility, Tom, but I don't think there's any reasonable prospect of it other than allowing the IDF to finish its work in Gaza and remove Hamas, which is against Penny Wong's and Anthony Albanese's policy.

CONNELL: Okay. A couple other quick ones. The Palestinian Authority, is that still a viable government/entity to deal with?

PATERSON: Well, they're about 15 years into their first four-year term in the West Bank and I think widely recognised as being incompetent and corrupt. And it's very difficult to see how you would even recognise that state. Let's remember that it is a policy of the Palestinian Authority to pay the families of terrorists who kill Israelis. A pay for slay program. I'm not sure any Australian government could responsibly recognise that entity either. And the history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation process is very well documented by Clinton administration officials who were there. Its that Israel makes repeated offers of peace. The Palestinians always reject that or make unreasonable demands that could never be agreed to.

CONNELL: It's not listed as a terror organisation, though, is it?


CONNELL: If that's what we were left with, we the World were left with. If Hamas were somehow forced out, would it be at least worth opening negotiation because everyone agrees? You wouldn't even negotiate with Hamas, would you? Try with the Palestinian Authority?

PATERSON: The basis of peace is that you recognise Israel's right to exist, that you recognise that both people have a right to self-determination, that there should be within secure borders, and that they should control their own affairs. That's a reasonable starting basis. But we don't have any of those preconditions yet. None of those have been met. We don't even have a Palestinian Authority which accepts Israel's right to exist, which recognises it, that's willing to engage in peace negotiations. There haven't been peace negotiations for years in Israel because the Palestinian Authority won't come to the table. So, I mean, this is really pie in the sky stuff, even more so after 7th October. And Australia is not helping the situation by this new approach.

CONNELL: Finally, support for Israel has ebbed overall during this war. Comments, even from Donald Trump to Israel media saying you've got to sort of watch what you're doing. Does the Prime Minister Netanyahu, where at least some of the blame for this, for the way the war's been conducted, in your view?

PATERSON: Well, I was in Israel about a month ago, Tom, and make no mistake, there are many Israelis who are very angry with the Prime Minister.

CONNELL: Big protest right now.

PATERSON: That's right, and his government, and it's very clear from opinion polling in Israel that if an election were held today, his government will be thrown out and there would be a new Prime Minister. But that's a matter for Israelis to resolve. It's not for us to commentate on.

CONNELL: What do you make of the way that he effectively has run the war?

PATERSON: Well, I'm not going to run a commentary on that from the cheap seats in Australia. There are a lot of armchair military experts who reckon they could have done it better. But I'm not saying I know better than the Prime Minister or his war cabinet. They've got a very difficult set of choices to make. There are still dozens of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza. Very little has been said about that from our government and our prime minister.

CONNELL: James Paterson, appreciate your time.

PATERSON: Thank you.


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