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Labor compromise struck on Israel trips

Mark Coultan, The Australian
State political correspondent

The NSW Labor Party conference has defused a divisive debate over sponsored trips to Israel by encouraging party members to spend “substantial” time in the Palestinian territories.

However, the compromise puts party officials’ trips at odds with NSW Labor leader Luke Foley’s position that Labor members of parliament should spend equal time in Palestinian territories if they accept a trip to Israel.

This has been criticised by pro-Israeli party members as a de facto ban on such trips, as there are practical difficulties in visiting or staying in the West Bank, and grave security issues in visiting Gaza.

The conference agenda feat­ured numerous motions criticising Israel, calling on Labor to immediately recognise Palestine, and even attempting to ban sponsored trips to Israel. The federal electorate council of Matt Thistlethwaite’s seat of Kingsford Smith said: “A token visit to Ramallah, added to a trip paid for by pro-Israel organisa­tions, should not be regarde­d as adequate.”

Other motions wanted a Labor government to implement a boycott of products from Israel or Israel­’s West Bank settlements.

All these motions were headed off by the party’s international relation­s policy committee, which crafted a resolution supporting a compromise policy carried at the last national ALP conference.

This called on Labor to consider, in partnership with like-minded coun­tries, recognising Palestine if there was no progress on a two-state solution. The compromise headed off a split within the right wing between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli MPs and brought the NSW party into line with the federal party.

Other states’ conferences have endorsed more pro-Palestinian resolutions. Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten has declined to endorse Mr Foley’s policy, saying he would not direct his MPs’ travel.

The final version passed by the NSW conference said that “in additio­n to” the travel arrangements in place for NSW state MPs, it “encourages all party members visiting the region for the purpose of understanding the conflict to spend substantial time in both Israel­ and Palestine”.

The compromise means, theor­etically, that there will be different stand­ards for sponsored trips to Israel­ for NSW MPs, federal MPs, and party officials and members.

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