11 May 2024

Penny Wong says Australia could recognise Palestinian statehood before Israel-Palestine peace process complete

5:00 pm on 11 May 2024

By Matthew Doran, ABC

Penny Wong

(File photo) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Foreign Minister Penny Wong says Australia could recognise Palestinian statehood before a formal peace process between Palestinian authorities and Israel is complete.

Overnight, Australia joined with 143 other nations to back a United Nations resolution expanding the rights and privileges afforded to the Palestinian delegation in New York.

Nine countries voted against the resolution, including the United States and Israel.

The resolution did not grant the Palestinian authority membership of the United Nations General Assembly, where it currently holds observer status.

The UN Security Council would need to agree to full membership being offered.

Wong stressed the vote - held in the early hours of Saturday morning, Australia time - was "not about whether Australia recognises Palestine" as its own state.

"We will do that when we think the time is right," she said at a press conference in Adelaide.

"What we would say, and what I do say, is Australia no longer believes that recognition can only come at the end of a peace process.

"It could occur as part of a peace process."

Despite the United States voting against the resolution, and the United Kingdom abstaining, the foreign minister stressed Australia was not an outlier in its position.

"Much of our region and many of our partners also voted yes, including our ally New Zealand, our special and strategic partner Japan, our comprehensive strategic partners Indonesia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea," she said.

"Having said that, this is not the way we would have done things or the resolution Australia would have proposed.

"But we have to deal with the vote that is before us."

Government's shifting stance draws criticism

The Albanese government's rhetoric on a two-state solution, and recognition of Palestinian statehood, has gradually shifted over the course of the Israel-Gaza war.

Last month, Wong insisted peace could only be achieved in the Middle East if both Israel and Palestine co-existed within agreed borders.

She said recognition of a Palestinian state could help "build momentum towards a two-state solution" with Israel.

Her comments were met with significant criticism from the federal opposition, which said it was "pre-emptive" to discussed statehood while the conflict between Israel and Hamas raged.

At the time, Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said it would be "seen as a win by the terrorists who initiated the current horrific conflict", referring to Hamas's attacks on Israel on 7 October.

Labor backbencher Josh Burns was critical of the government's decision to back the resolution at the United Nations.

"It is my view that Australia should have abstained," the Jewish MP posted on social media.

"An abstention would have signalled we're open to further recognition, but that we acknowledge the short term hurdles that need to be overcome in order to achieve lasting peace.

"Hamas are still holding over 130 hostages, and remains as the governing authority in Gaza."

Burns added Australia's Jewish community would "rightly question the timing of this vote".

Wong said any two-state solution would not involve Hamas, which she argued was focused on the destruction of the Israeli state.

"I understand that the [Jewish] community are feeling distressed and isolated," she said.

"I want to say you are valued members of our community, you have a right to be safe, you have a right to feel safe and anti-Semitism has no place anywhere. I stand against it, we all must stand against it.

"This resolution that we have supported is about long-term peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians - I truly believe that the only path to securing peace and security for Israel is with the establishment of two states."

- This story was first published by the ABC.

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