I wrote this speech in 2004 when I was a Member of Parliament. It’s as current now as it was then. I look forward to your comments.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD [3.14 a.m.]: The recent mysterious death of Yasser Arafat may be construed by some to create even greater instability in the Middle East. However, to others Arafat was more an impediment to peace than a facilitator of peace. If reports of the Peace Accord offered at Camp David in 2000 are correct, then much of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past four years may have been averted. It is widely accepted that Israeli Prime Minister Barak offered Israeli redeployment from 95 per cent of the West Bank and 100 per cent of the Gaza Strip, the creation of a Palestinian State in the areas of Israeli withdrawal, the removal of isolated settlements and transfer of the land to Palestinian control, Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, including most of the Old City, and religious sovereignty over the Temple Mount, replacing Israeli sovereignty in effect since 1967.
In return, Arafat merely needed to declare the end of conflict and agree that no further claims could be made on Israel. That offer was inconceivably generous, and yet it is understood that Mr Arafat chose to neither negotiate nor make a counter offer, but simply walked out of the discussions. It is generally accepted that Mr Arafat noted if he were to accept such an arrangement extremists on his own side would kill him. It is clear there are enough Palestinian activists to ensure that, from a Palestinian perspective, the only acceptable outcome would be the removal of Israel and the Jewish people. There is little in history that equals the struggle of the Jewish people to not only establish their own State, but to defend that State from the continuous threat of destruction.
As a youngster, I remember how impressed I was by stories of individual Jews urgently attempting to return to Israel at the outbreak of the Six-Day War. I particularly remember a story of a jet fighter pilot making his way from the United States of America. My good friend David Sachar has told me of his experiences with the underground in the Hagana. Indeed, Ariel Sharon was David’s corporal. In the 1948 War of Independence David fought as a sergeant in the Commandos. He was an armourer in the Sinai in 1956 and a reservist during the Six-Day War. Around the time my brother was getting ready to go to Vietnam to fight a war that killed Australians for a decade, the Israelis, outnumbered and outgunned, wiped their enemies from the desert sands in just six days. They are to be much admired; they are people you want on your side. The Jewish people have a clear and longstanding right to live in the area they have named Israel.
More than 3,000 years ago the Israelites defeated a series of warring tribal city-states in the land known as Canaan. Jerusalem itself was inhabited by a tribe called Jebusites. The King of Israel, David, captured that city and the Jebusite tribe was absorbed into the nation of Israel. The Bible records how King David later bought the site of the Temple in Jerusalem from a Jebusite called Aravnah. In the hundreds of years that followed, Israel suffered invasions resulting in the carrying away and enslaving of its people. While the Jews were ultimately allowed to return from exile to their homeland, they continued to suffer under the Romans, who, as an insult, and in an attempt to dominate them, renamed their land Palestina.
From about the sixth century onwards, adherents of the newly created religion of Islam, followed by the Muslim Ottomans, occupied the Holy Land until the defeat of Turkey in World War I. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, issued by the British government of the day, called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the 1920s Arabs took advantage of the rebuilding done by the Jews and flocked into Palestine looking for work. In 1923 the British, who held the League of Nations mandate over Palestine, facilitated the creation of the kingdom of Jordan by arbitrarily ceding 73 per cent of Palestine to the Arab Hashemite clan. In November 1947 the United Nations voted to partition and divide what was left of Palestine into both a Jewish and an Arab State. The Jews agreed, but the Arabs rejected the plan.
Subsequently, when British rule ended and British forces were withdrawn, Israel declared its independence and was immediately invaded by the armies of five surrounding Arab States. Fortunately, this attempt to snuff out the existence of the fledgling Jewish State failed. Against all odds, Israel survived. The conflicts that have ensued until the present day have been instigated by Arab nations opposing Israel’s right to exist. The Israelis have a justifiable claim to the Holy Land. If not for foreign conquerors, Israel would today be a 3,000-year-old civilisation.