I imagine a prime minister being “rolled” over foreign policy issues is not common, especially when the issue is nothing more than how to vote on a symbolic United Nations General Assembly resolution. But such is the precariousness of both Julia Gillard’s grip on her party and the Israeli government’s diplomatic strategy that this is exactly what happened earlier this week.
The Australian government had planned to vote against the resolution to upgrade the status of the “nonmember state” of “Palestine” at the UN. However, Gillard’s Labor Party cabinet members forced her to change Australia’s position to abstain.
From the Sydney Morning Herald, November 28:
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, who met Ms Gillard before cabinet, drove the push to oppose the Prime Minister…
Ms Gillard had wanted to vote no while the Left faction, which is pro-Palestinian, wanted to vote for the resolution.
The Right faction, which would usually support Ms Gillard, backed an abstention, in part due to the views of its members that the government was too pro-Israel, and also because many MPs in western Sydney, who are already fearful of losing their seats, are coming under pressure from constituents with a Middle East background.
I might note that we Jews, too, have a Middle East background, ((The “resistance”, so to speak, of the Palestinian organizations and their sympathizers abroad to recognize this basic fact is at the very core of the conflict.)) but presumably the SMH means Australian citizens from Arab or other Muslim countries. There just aren’t enough Jews in swing districts, apparently. ((And I do not know the views of the Australian Jewish population, but I assume its organizations would favor a no vote on the UN resolution.))
One source said Ms Gillard was told the cabinet would support whatever final decision she took because it was bound to support the leader but the same could not be said of the caucus.
“If you want to do it, the cabinet will back you but the caucus won’t,” a source quoted one minister as telling the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the German government has also announced it will abstain. When you lose Australia and Germany, even only to abstention on something symbolic, it may be a signal that your diplomatic strategy is lacking.
Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has said he would support the Palestinian Authority’s UN gambit.