Why the ALP should recognize Palestine: a response to BICOM’s Alan Johnston

(Link to Friends of Bethlehem on Facebook)

By Stewart Mills, 25 July 2015

The ALP will be on the wrong side of history if it fails to recognise Palestine. Recognition of Palestine is necessary as it provides greater legitimacy to assist Palestine in direct negotiations with Israel; and it sends a message to Israel that the international community is not satisfied with the continued occupation of Palestine.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 6.36.29 pm

One opponent to recognition of Palestine is Alan Johnston. His ‘Case against recognition of Palestine’ was published on ABC Religion and Ethics, 24 July 2011.

Johnston (not to be confused with the BBC Journalist Alan Johnston who was kidnapped by Hamas) works for BICOM a British centre that’s primary goal is “dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain.[i]

Unsurprisingly Johnston rejects the proposal that recognition for Palestine by third parties (such as Australia) will help the two parties (Israel and Palestine) to get back to the negotiating table.

Johnston rejects the proposal to recognize Palestine for following reasons:

  1. The proposal is based on a flawed premise that Israel has peace in the palm of its hand but refuses to give it up. On each occasion, Israel offered a peace concession (from 1937 until today) the Palestinians refused but made no counter offer.
  2. The proposal risks pushing the parties away from the negotiating table
  3. The proposal risks the mother of all unintended consequences
  4. The Palestinians do not have a state to recognize
  5. For Labor, the proposal carries a danger that would be felt closer to home

Johnston’s claims may be negated as:

  1. A response to Johnston’s claim the proposal is based on a flawed premise:

Johnston grossly minimizes the control Israel as an occupying power has on the peace process and unfairly dismisses the concessions made by Palestinians. Johnston’s claims fail to identify:

  1. Under international law, Israel is the occupying power of 1967 Palestine and as such has direct political, legal and economic control on the lives of Palestinians.
  2. Palestinians have had legitimate reasons for rejecting so-called ‘concessions’ by those championing a Greater Israel.
  • At the time of the Balfour Declaration there were 690,000 Palestinian Arabs (Christian and Muslim) compared with 59,000 Palestinian Jews in Ottoman Palestine and it seems difficult even then to see how a small minority could be given preferential treatment and who are in control of all of historic Palestine/Israel.
  1. Palestinians have made numerous compromises throughout the advent of the forcible creation of a Jewish State in historic Palestine/Israel.
  2. Palestinians have lived under Ottoman, British and Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian control in the 20th Century.
  3. Palestinians were forced to accept the Balfour Declaration whilst under British control, were forced to live under either the control of Israel, Egypt or Jordan (1949-1967) and then forced to live under Israel control from 1967 until today.
  • Palestine made a historic compromise by formally accepting a two state solution on 15 November 1988, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for negotiating a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[ii]
  • Despite Palestinian acceptance for a two state solution Israel has prejudiced any future outcome by annexing East Jerusalem, evicting Palestinians from their homes and land and building settlements for Israelis within occupied Palestine. All these actions are in contravention of international law.
  1. The result of Israel’s annexation and settlement activity over the past 48 years is there are now 500,00 Israelis living in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in a region that has 2.5 million Palestinians.
  1. A response to Johnston’s claim “the proposal risks pushing the parties away from the negotiating table”

Johnston claim is alarmist and an over-reaction.

  1. There are at least 138 countries that already recognize Palestine as a state.[iii]
  2. Only 9 countries who voted in the UN General Assembly in 2012 against recognizing Palestine as a state. This included Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, Panama and the United States. Of those 9 countries the vote could be questioned as at least 5 of those countries are heavily dependent on US aid – leaving 4 states Canada, Czech Republic, Israel and the United States opposing recognition of Palestine as a state.

Instead of putting negotiations at risk, the proposal provides further political leverage for Palestinians to bolster their case when direct negotiations resume. Israel as the occupying power holds most of the chips at the bargaining table.

In order to help the two parties — Israel and Palestine — to get back to the negotiating table what is required is to provide reasons for negotiation, namely:

  • Reasons for Israel to negotiate:
  1. If Israel sees that the benefits of negotiation are outweighed by the harms created by maintaining military occupation.
  2. If Israel can see that it’s security will not be compromised, with greater political legitimacy given to Palestine.
  • If Israel can see that can satisfy domestic political pressure in relation to core issues: Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, security and borders as part of the “permanent status negotiations”.
  • Reasons for Palestine to negotiate, is:
  1. If Palestine sees the benefits of negotiation outweigh not negotiating.
  2. If the bargaining power of Palestine is increased. Palestine’s bargaining power can be increased through gaining greater political legitimacy. The more states that recognise Palestine, the greater the international legitimacy for Palestine.
  • The greater the international legitimacy for Palestine, strengthens Palestine’s resolve that peace can be made through diplomacy and not through armed conflict.
  1. A response to Johnston’s claim: “The proposal risks the mother of all unintended consequences. It risks incentivizing the Palestinians to remain entrenched in their unrealizable maximalist demands and stay out of negotiations. If the international community will deliver a state to the Palestinians, then why compromise?”

Johnston’s claims:

  1. distorts the reason for the international community to recognise Palestine as a state. Recognition does not ‘deliver a state to Palestinians’. Recognition provides international legitimacy to strengthen Palestinians when they are at the negotiating table.What is ironic about Johnston’s claims is that stalling negotiations favours the military occupying power not the occupied. For every year or decade that Israel continues to occupy Palestine, this provides more time to prejudice any final outcome by it’s actions of annexation, evictions and settlement expansion. It is the US brokered peace-process that is incentivizing settlement expansion as there is no deterrent.
  1. overemphasise Palestinian demands for peace and under-emphasise Israeli demands for peace.Johnston claims Palestinians “demand the full and untrammelled ‘right of return’ for millions of Palestinian refugees, and their children and later descendants ad infinitum”. This is a falsehood. Palestine’s claim of right of return is a principle of international law but any final solution is subject to direct negotiation between the parties.Notwithstanding the indigenous Jewish component of Palestine at the time of the Balfour Declaration, it is ironic that opponents of Palestinian claims for right of return following the wars of 1948 and 1967 are dismissed by those claiming a Jewish right of return based on events occurring two thousand years ago.[iv]
  1. A response to Johnston’s claim “The Palestinians do not have a state to recognize”

There are 138 countries that disagree with Johnston on this one as these countries do recognise Palestine.

Recognition for Palestine today by Australia is no different when the US and USSR recognized Israel in May 1948 and Australia recognized Israel in January 1949 based on UN General Assembly Resolution 181. Palestinians are asking for recognition based on two states as identified in UNGA Res 181 and UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Alternatively, there are those that argue that Palestine is a state (albeit under belligerent occupation) as it meets the 4 grounds of statehood Montevideo Convention of 1933 (Convention of Rights and Duties of States)[v]. That is:

“The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:

(a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”[vi]

Palestine has a permanent population of 4.1 million.[vii] Palestine has defined territory by the UN Security Council Resolution 242 which specifically defines territory occupied by Israel; including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestine has a government. The Palestine Liberation Organisation is the international representative of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian National Authority is elected by the people of Palestine. The current President is Mahmoud Abbas and the current Prime Minister is Rami Hamdallah. Palestine was recognized by 104 countries in its 1988 declaration of independence[viii] and 135 countries in 2012. Palestine is a member of numerous international ’s membership in a range of international organizations that require statehood for membership. For example Palestine is a member of the International Criminal Court (2014), UNESCO (2011) the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2006)[ix], the Olympic Games Committee[x], the Group of 77[xi], Non-Aligned Movement, Economic Commission for Western Asia (ECWA)[xii], the Organization of the Islamic Conference[xiii] and the Arab League. Palestine is a non-member observer state of the United Nations (2012).

  1. A response to Johnston’s claim “For Labor, the proposal carries a danger that would be felt closer to home… whatever are the intentions of the proposers – a radical and unbalanced understanding of the nature of this conflict, an irresponsible and risky approach to its resolution, and irresolution in the face of extremism.”

Radical extremism, in the Middle East is a consequence of various geo-political, religious, cultural and economic factors. Extremists take many forms whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish. The Middle East in the past century has seen the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (that had control of the region for over 400 years), the rise and fall of the mandate system by Britain and France (after World War I), followed by the establishment of various independent states including Israel, various armed conflict within states (e.g. Lebanon and Syrian civil war), various armed conflict between Middle Eastern States (e.g. Iraq-Iran, Iraq-Kuwait), armed conflict including the US invasion if Iraq and the US, the advent of the ‘Arab Spring’ and the rise of Daesh.

What is irresponsible is to continue to allow the occupation of the people of Palestine and to fail to recognize Palestine as a state (albeit under military occupation).


Related articles

Michael Brull, ‘Ticking Boxes: The ALP’s Clayton’s Support For Palestine‘, New Matilda, 27 July 2015

[i] http://www.bicom.org.uk/about/

[ii] PLO Negotiations Affairs Department The Historic Compromise: The Palestinian Declaration Of Independence And The Twenty-Year Struggle For A Two-State Solution, 2008


[iii] On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a motion changing Palestine’s “entity” status to “non-member observer state” by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions A/67/L.28, Status of Palestine in the United Nations, 26 November 2012 http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/67/L.28

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_right_of_return

[v] Thomas D Grant, The Recognition of States: Law and Practice in Debate and Evolution, Praeger, Westport CT, 1999, p. 5

[vi] Article 1, Convention on Rights and Duties of States (inter-American); December 26, 1933 [Montevideo Convention]

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/intam03.asp (Accessed 20 May 2010).

[vii] Palestine total population is 4,119,083 – Gaza (1,604,238 (July 2010 est.)) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gz.html West Bank (2,514,845 ), https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/.

[viii] General Assembly Resolution 43/177 of 15 December 1988. 4 Pal. Y.B. Int’l L. 294 (1987-1988) http://books.google.com/books?id=DWhgIe3Hq98C&dq=isbn:9041103414


[ix] The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Directories: National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

http://www.ifrc.org/address/directory.asp (Accessed 28 May 2010). A negative response to this would be Michael Meyer, “Questions And Answers Concerning Issues Related to the 29th International Conference?” Standing Commission on the Red Cross and Red Crescent

http://www.rcstandcom.info/conference_qa.shtml (Accessed 28 May 2010).

[x] National Olympic Committees: Palestine, Olympic.org


[xi] Member States of the Group of 77, The Group of 77 at the United Nations

http://www.g77.org/doc/members.html (Accessed 26 May 2010).

[xii] Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, ESCWA Member Countries http://www.escwa.un.org/members/map.asp (Accessed 26 May 2010)

[xiii] Member States, Organization of the Islamic Conference

http://www.oic-oci.org/member_states.asp (Accessed 26 May 2010).


This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.