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Saturday 21 July 2018
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The road from Jerusalem

A Palestinian protester holds a slingshot behind his back during clashes following protests against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, last Friday.

Reginald Dumas writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

In his searing Express article of last December 25, Michael Harris dealt frontally with this country’s abstention in the recent United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution on the status of Jerusalem. He criticised aspects of the statement, issued on December 22 by our Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, which, I assume, purported to explain our abstention. I am as bewildered as Harris.

The statement says that “(TT’s) policy has always been to support the two States’ (sic) policy which means steadfast recognition of the State of Israel with secure territorial borders as well as the establishment of a Palestinian State. It is in this context that any and all negotiations relating to the future of Jerusalem arise.”

If we have always supported the two-state solution, which includes Jerusalem (West and East) as the capital of both states, how does the ministry explain the effect of Donald Trump’s decision, with Benjamin Netanyahu swooning in ecstasy, to recognise the city as the capital of one state only, Israel? What kind of “negotiations” can there now be which could give the Palestinians a just and fair result? Why would we then have abstained on a principle we say we have “always” upheld? Not because of threats from Trump and Nikki Haley, I hope? Would the “steadfast recognition…with secure territorial boundaries” that we extend to Israel apply also to a future Palestinian state? If so, why has the ministry not made that clear?

The statement also expresses the wish that the USA “play a major role in bringing…about (a solution) by preserving its position as an influential broker in all negotiations which would have peace and security as its (sic) primary objective.” But it seems clear that in coming down so firmly on one side, the USA has jettisoned that position of broker, and thus, at least for the foreseeable future, invalidated any “major role” it could play.

The statement ends with a paragraph which I am still struggling to understand. It reads: “It is the sovereignty of Trinidad and Tobago that allows us to be ahead of our time in supporting a One China policy and standing in opposition to the continuation of the embargo against Cuba. (TT) stands with all our partners, including the United States, in pursuance of these objectives which we genuinely believe will contribute to world peace and advance humanity in an improved world economic order.”

Is “sovereignty” the sole factor in our foreign policy decisions? (In which case, we could not logically have yielded to any threats. So why the Jerusalem abstention?) How were we “ahead of our time” on China and Cuba, and what is the relevance of this to our abstention on Jerusalem? Surely not that we were again “ahead of our time?” On China, we did vote in October 1971 for Beijing to replace Taipeh in the UN, but in the Anglophone Caribbean so also did Guyana. (And that UN vote came three months after US President Richard Nixon had announced he would be visiting Beijing the following year.) As for the US embargo on Cuba, the matter first came to the UN in 1992 – and we abstained. Hardly an act of “opposition,” but perhaps a manifestation of flawed “sovereignty.” (Barbados and Jamaica, by contrast, voted for the lifting of the embargo.)

I’m not sure what the phrase “these objectives” means; it could not be referring to China and Cuba. To what, then? And how are the cause of world peace, and the welfare of humanity, advanced by Trump’s unilateral declaration on Jerusalem?

In January 2012 I wrote four articles on some foreign policy matters. In the last article I asked a number of questions which, six years later, I consider still relevant. I said: “What is our foreign policy? Do we have one that is informed by an overarching national development philosophy? If so, what is it? What, for example, is our position on CARICOM?...(We) pay visits to this or that country…and speak with great assurance about what we are going to achieve and what benefits will accrue to us. But is that foreign policy? What are our objectives? What have we actually achieved? We still blather on about ‘diversifying the economy’ (words you will find in the…Third Five-Year Development Plan, 1969 to 1973) and ‘niche markets,’ and so on. But what has actually happened? Where is the balance sheet?”

There is a standing committee of Parliament on foreign affairs. I propose that it invite the Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs to appear and enlighten us on the work and functioning of his ministry. The 2015 manifesto of the PNM, now Government policy, contains a section on “International Relations and Foreign Policy.”

It is high time for an accounting to the nation.

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