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CARICOM dropped Jerusalem ball

Mohammed Degia

CARICOM dropped Jerusalem ball

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THE CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY (CARICOM) has for a long time feigned at having a common foreign policy. While this may be true with respect to some issues on the international agenda, particularly in the area of development, this pretense of unity dissipates on high stakes political matters.

One only has to look at the United States invasion of Iraq, the China/Taiwan recognition question, the Shiprider Agreement, Article 98 Agreements, ALBA or Venezuela. Add to this list, last Thursday’s United Nations General Assembly vote on the status of Jerusalem.

The events surrounding President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will relocate its embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv have been paid considerable worldwide attention. Following this announcement and the concern expressed by the international community, a draft UN Security Council resolution was tabled. The text was put to a vote on December 18 and expectedly, the US used its veto to thwart its adoption.

If it had been adopted, the resolution would have affirmed “that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council”. Fourteen of the 15 Security Council members – the other four permanent members and all ten nonpermanent members – voted in favour.

UN General Assembly resolutions are non-binding so this would have only moral weight and be a symbolic demonstration of the international community’s opposition to Trump’s actions. The resolution was adopted by the General Assembly with a vote of 128 in favour, nine against and 35 abstaining. The US and Israel cast negative votes, naturally.

Although it was a decisive statement of validation for the status of Jerusalem and a rejection of Trump’s action, it was in no way an overwhelming victory. Of particular note is that the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has invited the 65 countries which did not support the resolution to a reception on January 3 to thank them for their friendship.

The unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is in direct contravention of Security Council resolutions and international law. Two key allies of Israel and the US that are permanent members of the Security Council – France and the United Kingdom – voted in favour of the resolution. That is telling. Yet, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago saw it necessary to reject international law. St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia did not think it even necessary to participate in the voting, a preferred course of action employed for many years by some CARICOM countries and especially those from the OECS when there is a controversial vote.

Dealing with difficult topics is not something we in the Caribbean like to do, and the reality is that the meetings of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations and Heads of Government are largely talk shops where documents are churned out yearly with no clear strategy and no implementation of what little those documents contain. The region operates mostly in reactionary mode and is constantly playing catchup. I am unsure whether any attempt was made to coordinate a CARICOM position on the Jerusalem issue. I would not be at all surprised to hear that there wasn’t any.

The way forward for CARICOM is a practical one. The regional integration process requires a revival, both from a political perspective and at the bureaucratic level in the Secretariat. A CARICOM that is unified in understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by the international arena should certainly be able to confront them much more meaningfully and successfully. In addition, a CARICOM whose bonds are strong will be a much more difficult prospect for countries that depend on divide and rule and carrot and stick methods of diplomacy.

Of course this is all theoretical and easy to spell out on paper. In reality, we have a group of small islands clinging tightly to notions of sovereignty and political leaders in possession of large egos, and for whom any sense of relinquishing a minuscule amount of power is beyond comprehension. This is one of the main reasons why the regional integration project has not been realised.

• Mohammed Degia is a former Barbados diplomat with a passion about issues related to race, religion, colonialsm, cricket and much more.