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Australia and the Arab-Israeli conflict: from ‘choosing the least of a number of evils’ to ‘strong backers of a two-state solution’


Since the early days of Israel’s creation, the Australian Government’s position on the Arab-Israeli conflict has been of much public and political interest. The Parliamentary Library has just published two comprehensive Background Notes, Australia and the Middle East conflict: a history of key Government statements (1947–2007) and The Rudd and Gillard Governments and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: November 2007–May 2012, which outline the evolution of Australia’s position on the dispute and proposed solutions by exploring public statements made by each Australian Government over the past 65 years.

On 10 May 1948, Prime Minister Ben Chifley, commenting on Australia’s support for the UN plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state, said:
‘The Government was kept fully informed of all the reasons for and against the partition, and having considered the matter, it decided that partition was the best course to follow. It was not a matter of choosing between the bad and the good, but of choosing the least of a number of evils’.
Australia’s public position on the conflict has evolved gradually, as evidenced in particular by its stance on the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Australian Government’s acceptance of the possibility of a Palestinian ‘homeland’ or state in the mid-1970s, grew in the 1980s to become active support for the Palestinians’ right, ‘if they so choose, to independence and the possibility of their own independent state’.

By the 2000s the Australian Government was stating more definitively that an independent Palestinian state should be part of any comprehensive peace agreement. In September 2011, Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote ‘Australia aspires to see a future Palestinian state existing alongside Israel in peace and security. We are strong backers of a two-state solution...’.

Support for Israel’s ‘right to exist’ has remained consistent over the long term, and every Australian Government since 1967 has supported United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 as the broad framework for resolving the conflict.

The first paper highlights how the Australian Government responded publicly to key events during the period 1947–2007 and the second paper focuses on the policies of the two most recent Labor Governments towards the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.