Email 6 August 2006

I am a retired academic, former head of the Politics Department at Macquarie University. I would like an opportunity to talk to you about foreign policy, especially the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. I will contact your office staff and ask for an appointment.

I think the US and its allies have made a serious mistake in not calling for an IMMEDIATE ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel--they should have called on both sides to cease attacks immediately, and they should then press for a negotiated settlement of ALL the issues between Israel and its neighbours. It is not enough to seek a long-term settlement with respect to Lebanon and northern Israel; no such settlement is possible except in the context of a comprehensive settlement between Israel and all other interested parties, including the Palestinians.

Concerning the need for an immediate cease fire, a letter I noticed recently in the New York Times makes the vital point: “Of course Israel has every right to defend itself. That is not the question. The question is whether reducing Lebanon to rubble, bombing power plants and hospitals, and killing hundreds of trapped, terrorized civilians defends Israel”. (I will paste the letter in below.)

The US argument that a ceasefire is of no value unless there is an assurance of long-term peace is simply false (and in my opinion disingenuous). Every day the death and destruction continues, the possibility of peace becomes more remote. The US attitude makes sense only on the assumption that if Israel is allowed to destroy Hezbollah the prospects of peace will improve. That might be true in the short term, but death and destruction now leads to hatred into the distant future.

The two best books I have read on the background to the conflict are A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin, and The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, by Avi Shlaim. Fromkin’s account makes it clear that the Balfour Declaration and the British League of Nations Palestine Mandate were designed by the British to improve the security of the British Empire, especially to secure communications with India. The British for their own purposes encouraged the Jews to go into a hostile environment, they went in the hope of restoring Israel. But they now find themselves in what may be an untenable position. (It is like a military unit sent in “a bridge too far”: either they retreat, or they surrender, or they are wiped out.) At any rate they are in a position from which they find it difficult or impossible to retreat, in which they are suffering serious casualties in terms of lives lost and in economic and cultural terms. Shlaim’s book makes it clear that among the Jews in Palestine there were people, more recently represented by the Likud party, who did not seek to conciliate the Arabs but believed they must be subjected by force. The British plan and the Likud attitude has led to a terrible tragedy for both Jews and Arabs, and we are all being dragged into it. Australia’s neighbour is the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

I don’t see any good prospect of a comprehensive settlement between Jews and Arabs. The “two state” proposal has been on the table off and on since 1938, and it always fails because of the mingling of populations. Ethnic separation involves serious disruption and injustice, the people made to move never believe that the compensation is adequate (if any compensation is offered at all). Where there is mingling, as there is in most countries of the world, the groups have to learn to live together--the multicultural state is now the norm. A comprehensive settlement would therefore probably mean the abandonment of the Zionist project of a separate state and territory for Jews in the territory of Ancient Israel. [I no longer think this. What I hope for is not one multicultural states but two--Israel with a Jewish majority and Palestine with a Muslim majority, but protection for the rights of minorities.] The best tenable position for them that I can see is a unitary multicultural state of Israel/Palestine covering the whole of the old Palestine, perhaps with separate Jewish/non-Jewish citizenships and representative institutions, but sharing the same territory within some overarching polity (see Mathias Mossberg’s suggestion,,,1812242,00.html). On the other hand, Muslims would have to change their position significantly. Their religious leaders would have to repudiate the use of force to impose religious orthodoxy and religious uniformity in territories traditionally Muslim. They would have to undergo the same intellectual revolution as Christians did in the course of the 17th century and adopt religious toleration (see Any comprehensive settlement would have to involve the religious leaders of the Muslim world, who would have to pledge themselves to work to change Muslim attitudes in these matters.

The growth of tolerance in 18th and 19th century Europe, the dismantling of Soviet and Eastern European communism, the end of apartheid in South Africa, show that surprising changes can take place. But maybe no comprehensive settlement between Jews and Muslims is possible. In that case my grandchildren will live in a grim world. The future shortage of oil (which will strengthen the power of Arab states, and intensify struggles within them for political power and wealth), the demographic trends in the middle east, nuclear armament of states like Iran and Pakistan, the probability that nuclear material and other dangerous substances will eventually come into the hands of terrorists--on top of global warming, continued unfairness in the international trading system, not to mention conflicts apart from the clash between Muslims and “the West”--will bring about a general breakdown of international order, increasing flows of refugees, and in countries like US and Australia the undermining of the rule of law on the pretext of a need for security and the management of immigration.

[On another topic, not unrelated] The current Australian government is very ready to provide troops in support of the US. I would like to see a law requiring parliamentary approval for the deployment of Australian forces overseas. At present, as you know, the use of armed force comes under the royal prerogative (in practice, it is the decision of the prime minister alone) and does not require parliamentary approval. I would also like to see a law requiring Parliamentary approval of treaties. I would like to see these two proposals part of the ALP’s policy for the next election. I attach a note on Parliamentary approval of overseas deployments.


Letter in New York Times  

To the Editor

Re “The Long-Term Battle: Defining ‘Victory’ Before the World” (news analysis, Aug. 3):

Of course Israel has every right to defend itself. That is not the question.

The question is whether reducing Lebanon to rubble, bombing power plants and hospitals, and killing hundreds of trapped, terrorized civilians defends Israel; or whether instead, such actions turn it into an international pariah without friends anywhere.

The question is whether, along with the Bush administration’s disastrous policies in Iraq, this war plays into Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s hands, undermining moderate Islam and strengthening radical hard-liners everywhere.

The question ultimately is whether, without anyone in power in Washington or Jerusalem or Damascus or Tehran having the wisdom and courage to say “Enough!,” with violence begetting more and more violence, we are all drifting mindlessly, like people in a dream, toward the ever-increasing likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe.

Eric Chivian (The writer is a co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.)


Email 19 October 2006

I was to have met with you on Tuesday afternoon, but the meeting has been postponed until late November. So let me make by email the point I would have wanted to make if we had met on Tuesday.

I would like to persuade you to put the Israeli/Arab conflict higher on your agenda of foreign policy issues. I would like to persuade you to talk publicly about this conflict as often as possible, expressing concern for the well being of people on both sides, deploring the atrocities perpetrated by both sides, and urging that there be a comprehensive and lasting settlement as soon as possible. [omission]

But in fact I don’t care much exactly what you say on this subject. I’d just like you to talk about it publicly from time to time. I’m sure that whatever you say will be sensible [I thought so then!], and anything else that needs to be said can be said by others in the public discussion your comments would stimulate.

You may feel that Israel/Palestine is far away, out of reach of the influence of even a “middle power”. I would not agree. I think people in the US would take some notice if an Australian government began to take an interest in the issue. But in any case, there is a good reason why this matter should be put on the Australian political agenda. Many Australian citizens and residents, Jewish and Muslim, feel personally concerned about middle eastern conflict. Silence can be equivalent to a statement. The silence of Australia’s political leaders suggests indifference. Silence also suggests that Australian are happy to follow the lead of the USA, which consistently backs Israel and does little or nothing toward a comprehensive settlement and peace. Can we expect Australians with middle-east connections to become sincere believers in Australian values if Australians show no interest in justice and peace in the Middle East? Justice and peace are core ALP values, and settling the conflict between Israel and its neighbours should be high on the ALP’s foreign policy agenda. We ought to “tell the truth” on this subject, whether anyone is listening or not, even if some don’t want to hear.

Even if Australia cannot have much influence over events in the middle east, Australian leaders should express concern and even put forward proposals. Public diplomacy is addressed not only to foreigners, but also to the citizens of this country. Even if the US government pays no attention, citizens of this country will be listening, and perhaps also people in Indonesia, Malaysia and others in our region who may be concerned about conflicts that involve Muslims in the middle east.

Anyone who says anything that could be construed as criticism of Israel can expect to be attacked. See for example the editorial in The Australian, August 25,,20867,20242721-7583,00.html. The attack on Mr Burns is nasty and personal, and there are insinuations of appeasement and anti-Semitism. (The reference to an Israel lobby is probably an allusion to the article:, which is in no way an expression of anti-Semitism.)

The suggestion of appeasement is made because many people say that the conflict over Palestine is one of the motivations of Islamic terrorism. I think they are likely to be right, and I think concern about terrorism is one of the good reasons for trying to settle that conflict, despite the appeasement accusation. But even apart from concern for terrorism, the establishment of a just peace should have our support. My view on this matter was formed many years ago, before terrorism became an international issue. As a boy at school in Brisbane I used to read every week the Melbourne Catholic Advocate, where the commentator on foreign affairs held two points I found convincing: (1) that the establishment by the British under the League of Nations mandate, and later by the UN, of a “national home for the Jews” in a territory where the overwhelming majority of the population were Arabs had led to serious injustice to the Arabs, and (2) that the injustices could not now be corrected by driving the Jews out of the places that had become their home. It still seems to me that these two points are valid. As things have gone over the years, the injustice to the Arabs has become worse, and the determination to drive the Jews out of Israel has become stronger.

The Lebanon war, about which I emailed you on 6 August, is now in a sense over, but it did a lot of damage from which Lebanon will take years to recover. There are also many “bomblets” from US-supplied cluster bombs, used by the IDF in the last few days of the conflict. Perhaps you could consider what Australia could do to assist in the reconstruction of Lebanon.


On Iraq: I think the ALP has made a mistake in saying that it will unilaterally withdraw troops from Iraq. This is a return to Mark Latham’s “home by Christmas” promise. I was opposed to the Iraq war, but now that it has happened we can’t simply withdraw on the grounds that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

What the ALP should say is that it will, with the US and other allies, negotiate with the Iraqi government a phased withdrawal in the near future, in accordance with which Australian troops will be withdrawn. The US may be considering such a thing anyway, and they could hardly refuse if Australia wanted such a negotiation - if they did, an ALP government could then reasonably announce that Australia by itself would negotiate with the Iraq government. The ALP should also say, (1) punish the Liberals-Nationals for going to war in Iraq by voting them out – even if the ALP has no good solution, it is right to vote out the people who made the mess (similarly in the US the Democrats should not pretend to have a good solution, but should call on the electorate to punish the Bush party); and (2) for the future, let’s make it law that any overseas deployment of Australian troops needs parliamentary approval. Further, (3) I would like the ALP to commit itself to electoral reform, to make it less likely that a future ALP or a Lib-Nat coalition government will ignore informed public opinion: see

This news item will reinforce Mr Beazley’s contention that Iraq was a distraction from Afghanistan:,,1924794,00.html

Email of 19 November 2006

I would like to hear you voice support for a surprising change of direction on John Howard’s part. What he said has not been well reported. If you support him, it will in effect put him in a position where he has to follow up and actually try to do what he has now said needs to be done.

There are two reports. The first is from a draft of the speech Howard gave to the Australian American Association Dinner, 14 November: “By all means let us talk to countries such as Syria and Iran … Far more importantly, let us intensify our efforts towards a sustainable and just solution to the Palestinian solution.[sic]..” See Alan Ramsey:

A fuller version from Howard’s web site: “By all means let us talk to countries such as Syria and Iran, but let us do so with a realistic mindset about the motivation and the behaviour of those countries. Far more importantly my friends and not withstanding the difficulties and the setbacks of recent times, let us again intensify our efforts towards a sustainable and just solution to the Palestinian issue. Wherever one goes in the Muslim world and whenever one talks to moderate Islamic leaders such as Yudhoyono and Musharraf who are so vital to the struggle against Islamic extremism, there is a legitimate desire for a lasting settlement to this issue. Any settlement must of course be fundamentally based on a secure Israel behind internationally accepted borders and free at last from the constant harassment that it has endured for decades. Second, it must establish a viable and independent state for the Palestinian people.”

The second is from remarks Howard made recently in Hanoi. I have not seen any print report, but you can listen at The introductory remarks say that Howard said that Palestine is “emotionally at the heart of all the problems in the Middle East”. He says: “Whenever I talk to moderate Islamic leaders, ultimately the conversation ends up on the Palestine issue.”

In recent emails I drew your attention to statements by Javier Solana (,23599,20653497-38201,00.html) and Tony Blair (,,1947191,00.html), in which they also made the point that the Israel-Palestine issue is at the root of troubles in the middle east (Blair: “We should start with Israel-Palestine. That is the core”). At a recent UN sponsored conference the same point was made:

Please make a public statement of support for Howard’s call to “intensify our efforts towards a sustainable and just solution to the Palestinian issue”.

May I suggest that you plan during the Parliamentary vacation to make a study tour of Israel, Palestine and Lebanon (take Tanya Plibersek and Michael Danby, perhaps). This would focus your own mind on the issue, and reports of your tour would also convey to the electorate the fact that you are thinking seriously about how the conflict should be solved, without committing you to any particular view as to how that should be done.

I will paste in below a message I sent on 16 November to a journalist: it will serve to summarise what I have been saying to you in a number of messages since 6 August.

Best wishes,

John Kilcullen


Email to a journalist

I would like you and other journalists to take any opportunity you get to ask Kevin Rudd, Kim Beazley and their government counterparts some questions about how they see Australia’s role in helping to bring about a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

They may say that it is not Australia’s business, but this is obviously not true: conflict in the middle east, and in Israel-Palestine in particular, is a major factor in terrorism. The core terrorists may be psychopaths, but their supporters include people who really do care about the plight of the Palestinians--that is why propaganda by the terrorist leadership always mentions this.

It may be said that Australia can have no influence in the middle east or over the Americans. I think that that is largely true, but I believe that US public opinion, or at least elite opinion, would be influenced and encouraged by advice on this topic from Australian leaders. (Rudd himself is optimistic about the role of a “middle power”, but Israel-Palestine is notably absent from his agenda; see,20867,20442118-7583,00.html.) A friend in the State Department tells me that in US government circles they refer to the Israel-Palestine conflict as a “third rail” -- “Touch it and you die!” Intelligent US politicians and public servants would be glad to hear Australians saying some of the things they don’t dare say themselves. Further, some of our Australian fellow citizens and residents, and our neighbours in the region, would be glad to hear Australians pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are “secular” states with large Muslim populations: exacerbation of Muslim feeling by the continued atrocities in Israel and its neigbourhood is a threat to their stability. (This is also true of Turkey and various other countries.)

And in any case it is a matter of humanity and justice: the populations of Israel and Palestine and the other countries affected include many, let’s hope a majority, of decent people who want to live a normal life and don’t want their families and other people (even people they dislike) killed atrociously. The rest of us ought to do what we can to free them from a conflict their political “leaders” don’t seem able to settle.

The media are full of reports of the events of the conflict, notably recently the war in Lebanon. But our politicians never comment on these events, or, if they do, echo the views of the Bush administration. This conveys a clear message to Arab and other Muslim residents of this country--that their concerns are of no interest to white Australians, that their interests are not our interests, that “Australian values” don’t include justice and humanity.

Email to Kevin Rudd, January 2007

Some time ago I wrote to you about the Israel-Palestine conflict and asked for an appointment to discuss it with you. Meanwhile a good deal has happened--you are now federal leader of the ALP, various world leaders have called for a comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, some discussions have been held between the two principal parties, and more recently fighting has broken out between Fatah and Hamas. I would still like to discuss this matter with you. [omission]

You have described yourself as a “life-long supporter of the state of Israel”. My position since before you were born has been that

(1) the establishment by the British of a “national home” for the Jews in the mandated territory of Palestine was a major injustice to the Arab Palestinians and the beginning of a long train of injustices, but

(2) Israel is an accomplished fact constraining what can be done to rectify the injustices.

Whatever can be done ought to be done, and Israel’s true friends would urge the Israelis to admit and try to rectify the injustices and make a comprehensive and just peace settlement. In fact, Israel’s continued existence is in jeopardy if the conflict continues. Since the 1920s the right wing of Jewish politics, represented these days by Likud and its offshoot Kadima, have followed the policy of the “iron wall”:

A voluntary agreement [with the arabs] is unattainable… We must either suspend our settlement efforts [in the mandated territory of Palestine] or continue them without paying attention to the mood of the natives. Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force that is not dependent on the local population, behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down. (Jabotinski, quoted Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall (Penguin, 2000), p. 13.

In the face of the disorders of recent years, the Israeli government has been “staying the course”, continuing with the “iron wall” policy, now a literal wall of concrete and steel. Staying the course might be an expedient policy if there were reason to think that after a few more years the conflict might begin to die down. But there are three reasons for thinking the opposite: (1) demography, (2) growing oil shortages in years to come and therefore rising prices, and the instability that will bring to the Middle East, and (3) the likely eventual success of terrorists and certain states in acquiring dangerous substances and weapons.

Staying the course is not going to be an option for much longer. Time is running out for peace between Israel and its neighbours. The Washington Post commentator Robert Novak wrote recently, a propos the Baker-Hamilton report:

Commission members feel the urgency of progress on the Israeli front more deeply than is reflected in the formal language. They are not Israel-bashers. One commission member with a long record of support for Israel feels the country’s very existence is at stake. He reported to me warnings from experts friendly to Israel that staying on the present track will threaten the Jewish state within 40 years.” (

The parties to the conflict will work out the settlement, but in my own view it will require something much more generous than Barak’s allegedly generous offer, something like the plan of union once put forward by Shimon Peres (see Shlaim, op. cit., p. 332) and more recently revived in a different form by Mathias Mossberg (,,1812242,00.html)--namely, a single state [I no longer support this; see See Gorenberg, Shimon Peres and Walt.] of Israel incorporating all the “occupied territories”, but a multi-cultural state in which all citizens will have equal political rights and safeguards for their security and their cultural identity.

What I would like you to do is this: Go on a study tour to Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Lebanon, accompanied by some other ALP members of Parliament (e.g. Michael Danby and Tanya Plibersek) and by some expert on the region, and when you come back visit some of the Australian communities with connections to that part of the world and tell them what you think--or at least give them a report of what you saw and what various people said to you and invite them to express their opinions. That is, inform yourself better (and be seen by the public to be doing so) and start talking about the conflict between Israel and its neighbours as an issue of peace and justice that concerns Australia. Put it on Australia’s foreign policy agenda.