THE Prime Minister was braced for a frontal assault from the Opposition about her past, but she didn't expect the spontaneous revolt from her own party over her support for Israel.
Julia Gillard relied on her authority as Prime Minister when she decided on Monday that Australia would vote in support of Israel in a forthcoming ballot in the United Nations, but her authority proved inadequate. Gillard overruled the strong advice of her Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, and the overwhelming opinion of her cabinet to insist on her position. This set off a firestorm.
The uprising was led by Bob Carr. ''He was on the ring-a-round,'' canvassing support for his position, said a factional convener. ''I've never seen a Cabinet minister stand up to a prime minister like that.'' But after being advised that she was about to face a full Caucus revolt on the matter on Tuesday, Gillard capitulated. Importantly, the bedrock support base for Gillard in the Caucus, the Right faction, split.
While the Victorian bloc of the Right wanted to bind all the faction's votes nationally in support of the Prime Minister, the NSW group refused.
It was a rare and humiliating backdown for a prime minister.
And it was an important marker in Australian political sentiment about the impassioned dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gillard had insisted that Australia vote against giving Palestine observer status in the UN General Assembly; her party forced her to change Australia's position to abstaining instead.
Only seven countries are expected to vote against the move to upgrade Palestinian recognition - Israel, the US, Canada, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands. If Gillard had prevailed, Australia would have been the eighth.
Ten ministers representing both Labor factions spoke against the Prime Minister's stated position in a long Cabinet debate; Tony Burke, Chris Bowen, Bob Carr, Simon Crean, Craig Emerson, Martin Ferguson, and Peter Garrett from the Right and Anthony Albanese, Mark Butler and Greg Combet from the Left.
Only two spoke in support of Gillard's position; Stephen Conroy and Bill Shorten, both from the Right.
In the debate, it was pointed out that one of Labor's staunchest friends of Israel, the former prime minister Bob Hawke, had been on the phone urging ministers to cast Australia's vote as an abstention.
Israel's policy of allowing continuing expansion of Israeli settlements on was sabotaging peace, Hawke argued, and Israel's friends had to send it a message.
After Bob Carr got his way, he was the first to go public in defence of his leader. It was not a humiliation but a textbook case of a leader heeding the party, said Carr. Which is one way of putting it.