CARICOM Disarray on UN General Assembly “Status of Jerusalem” Vote

Submitted by Mohammed Degia

Al-Quds. Photo courtesy of worldbulletin.net

The Caribbean Community group of countries or 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 pretence of unity dissipates on high-stake political matters. One only has to look at the USA invasion of Iraq, the China/Taiwan recognition question, the Shiprider Agreement, Article 98 Agreements, ALBA or Venezuela. Add to this list, yesterday’s UN General Assembly vote on the status of Jerusalem.

Donald Trump and his administration’s many shenanigans have dominated the news for many months. For the past two and a half weeks, the events surrounding Trump’s announcement that the USA recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will relocate its Embassy to there from its current location in Tel Aviv have been paid considerable attention to worldwide.

Following this unilateral announcement by the Trump administration and the concern expressed by the international community, a draft UN Security Council resolution was tabled in response. The text was put to a vote on Monday 18th and expectedly the US used its veto to thwart its adoption. The draft document spoke to the need to abide by previous Security Council resolutions on the status of Jerusalem. 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status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.” It would also have called on all States “to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.” Fourteen of the fifteen Security Council members- the other four permanent members and all 10 non-permanent members- voted in favour.

The US Ambassador to the UN, former South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley once again showcased her diplomatic immaturity and her seeming intent to rival one of her predecessors, John Bolton, in his disastrous stint. After her tirade at the Council vote, she followed up with tweets and a letter to UN member states warning them not to support an anticipated UN General Assembly resolution on the issue. According to her, the US would take names of those who voted in favour of the resolution. Not to be outdone, Trump also threatened countries if they supported the resolution, contending that votes would be watched and aid cut.

A UN General Assembly resolution from 1950 called “Uniting for Peace” makes a provision for the General Assembly to consider a matter immediately “if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression”. Acting in their respective roles as Chair of the Arab Group and Chair of the Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Yemen and Turkey requested the President of the General Assembly to resume the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly and tabled the same draft resolution for the deliberation of the special session.

Final tally of UNGA vote on “Status of Jerusalem” resolution. Photo courtesy of un.org

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, 9 against and 35 abstaining. The USA and Israel cast negative votes naturally. They were joined by Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau, four of the set of Pacific islands that always vote on these types of resolutions in the way they are directed to by certain countries. Guatemala, Honduras and Togo rounded out the no votes, unable obviously to withstand the pressure they had been placed under. Those abstaining were a medley of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Eastern European countries along with Australia and Canada. A similar assortment of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Eastern European countries numbering 21 did not participate in the voting. Thus 128 countries expressed unreserved backing for the resolution while in one way or another 65 did not support it. 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 Nikki Haley has invited these 65 countries to a reception on January 3rd to thank them for their friendship.

UNGA voting screen showing breakdown of how countries voted on “Status of Jerusalem” resolution. Photo courtesy of trendsmap.com

I will not delve into the international legal arguments about the status of Jerusalem and the illegal nature of the unilateral US action. Enough has been written about that. Neither will I, even though I am tempted to, address certain stark truths about Palestine and Jerusalem such as:

  1. the fact that the Palestinian Authority is a corrupt entity that colludes fully with Israel and the USA in the occupation of Palestine and acts as an enforcer for the Zionists;
  2. the so-called Muslim world is a huge mess and many of its tyrants and despots, led by the Egyptians, aid and abet the oppression of Muslims and Christians in Palestine. I had touched on the Egyptian governments hypocrisy on Palestine when I wrote about an Egyptian Minister’s racist remarks last year;
  3. Oslo and the so-called peace process is a farce that was created specifically to legitimise the colonial settler entity of Israel and ensure that if the Palestinians do ever have a state, it will be an unviable set of Bantustans. Edward Said tackled this masterfully in his “Peace and its Discontents.”

I want to touch on CARICOM and the way some of the group chose to vote or not vote. CARICOM countries speak often and loudly about how powerful, large states should not marginalise those that are small or weaker. They stress the importance of multilateralism and international law in this regard and how important these norms are in ensuring all voices are heard. One wonders therefore how seven of the fourteen CARICOM countries that are members of the UN found themselves not supporting this resolution. A resolution which is clear cut about international law and the necessity of states to abide by it. 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 USA that are permanent members of the Security Council –France and the UK- voted in favour of the resolution. That is telling. Yet, Antigua and Barbuda, 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. This is 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. I have always thought it to be a cowardly way to deal with an uncomfortable subject.

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 (COFCOR) and Heads of Government are largely talk shops where documents are churned out yearly with no clear strategy and no implementation of what little is contained in those documents. The region operates mostly in reactionary mode and is constantly playing catch up. I am unsure whether any attempt was made to coordinate a CARICOM position on the Jerusalem issue. I would not be at all surprised, based on my knowledge and experience of the region, to hear that there wasn’t any. Moreover, the region is prone to disunity and larger countries are well aware that the carrot and stick approach deployed in various ways is an effective tool to split the group and achieve their goals.

The way forward for CARICOM is a practical one. First, how can the region progress beyond this inertia to an actual dynamic foreign-policy coordinating process which produces bold, strategic actions? Second, how can the region move from paying lip service to multilateralism and international law to acting in a principled manner whenever these cogs of the global system are compromised? The answer rests in the two complimenting each other. 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. The movement and interaction of people throughout the region has been an ongoing feature of life in the Caribbean for as long as anyone can remember. Instead of building on these deep people to people links through the creation of strong institutions, political leaders have simply paid lip service and engaged in useless rhetoric. It is time for the people of the region to demand more of their political leaders and hold them accountable.