Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Editorial | Jamaica’s attempt at being Houdini

Published:Friday | May 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM

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 best trained 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.


Disproportionate response


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 pre-1967 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 the 1967 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.