Ja’s at­tempt at be­ing Hou­dini

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

JA­MAICA’S GOVERN­MENT and its for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment have ac­com­plished a great feat. They walked in a del­uge and man­aged not to get wet. Or so, per­haps, they be­lieve. In which event, they are mis­guided.

For few peo­ple, we ex­pect, see the for­eign min­istry’s state­ment on this week’s mass killing of Pales­tini­ans in Gaza, at the ‘bor­der’ with Is­rael, as any­thing other than a facile at­tempt at neu­tral­ity that be­trays prin­ci­ple. Worse, it is bad for Ja­maica and small states like ours.

On Mon­day, Is­rael’s sol­diers, among the best­trained and best-equipped in the world, killed around 60 peo­ple and wounded nearly 3,000 oth­ers from among nearly 40,000 who were protest­ing the Pales­tinian dis­place­ment from lands when Is­rael was cre­ated 70 years ago. The demon­stra­tions were also over the for­mal open­ing, that day, of the United States Em­bassy in Jerusalem, af­ter its move from Tel Aviv. Dur­ing six weeks of Pales­tinian protests, the Is­raelis have killed more than 100 demon­stra­tors and in­jured 12,000.

Un­like re­cent Pales­tinian In­tifadas, the re­cent demon­stra­tions have been largely peace­ful. Some of the pro­test­ers have thrown stones and petrol bombs and fired sling­shots at Is­raeli sol­diers, pro­tected by a ‘bor­der’ fence, a de­fen­sive trench and other bar­ri­ers. This time, there were no rock­ets from the mil­i­tant group Ha­mas or re­ports of gun­fire from the demon­stra­tors.


Is­rael’s re­sponse, on the face of it, was not only dis­pro­por­tion­ate, but in vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights law. As Michael Lynk, the UN’s rap­por­teur for hu­man rights, put it, it was like “an eye for an eye­lid”. In­deed, sev­eral coun­tries, in­clud­ing one of Is­rael’s clos­est al­lies, Great Bri­tain, called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the killings, even as Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica re­jected the pro­posal and shielded Is­rael from crit­i­cism at the United Na­tions.

Ja­maica, no­tably, framed its re­sponse in a con­text of “un­rest in the Mid­dle East”, and said it had been ob­serv­ing, “with much con­cern”, the vi­o­lence on the Is­rael-Gaza bor­der, de­clared it­self trou­bled by the “high death toll”, ex­pressed “sym­pa­thy for those af­fected by the sit­u­a­tion” and called for “peace­ful en­gage­ment on both sides”. It ap­por­tioned no blame, or, if it did, it was in a fash­ion that might be in­ter­preted as that blame be­ing spread evenly.

Added the for­eign min­istry: “This de­vel­op­ment pre­sents an­other op­por­tu­nity to reaf­firm Ja­maica’s position and our be­lief that the best so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian cri­sis rests in a ne­go­ti­ated po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment based on a just and com­pre­hen­sive agree­ment that guar­an­tees the se­cu­rity of the State of Is­rael and pro­vides for a Pales­tinian State, within in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised bor­ders.”

Two things are to be noted in those re­marks. One is that ref­er­ence to “within in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised bor­ders”, and the ab­sence of the pre1967 bor­ders, as spec­i­fied in UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil resolutions on the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. This is sig­nif­i­cant on a num­ber of fronts, not least of which is Don­ald Trump’s recog­ni­tion of dis­puted Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, hence his re­lo­ca­tion of the US Em­bassy and, thereby, a de facto set­tling, from the Amer­i­can point of view, of the Jerusalem ques­tion. That, how­ever, calls into ques­tion Amer­ica’s role as an hon­est bro­ker in the con­flict.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Ja­maica, which recently ap­pears to be sidling up to Is­rael, ab­stained from last De­cem­ber’s UN vote crit­i­cis­ing Amer­ica’s move of its em­bassy. Pre­vi­ously, it skil­fully avoided votes at UNESCO on some of Is­rael’s ac­tions in Jerusalem.

This news­pa­per in­sists on Is­rael’s rights to ex­ist within se­cure bor­ders – those, as re­quired by in­ter­na­tional law, es­tab­lished be­fore the1967 war. We be­lieve in the two-state so­lu­tion, which re­cent Is­raeli ac­tion, and Mr Trump’s en­able­ment, in­creas­ingly place in doubt.

As we re­minded be­fore, ad­her­ence to in­ter­na­tional law, in the con­text of a rule-based in­ter­na­tional sys­tem, is the best pro­tec­tion small states like Ja­maica have against the im­punity of rich or mil­i­tar­ily pow­er­ful ones. That is why we must be will­ing to call out even our friends when they in­fringe the rules.

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