Sun | Oct 21, 2018

Letter of the Day | Israel-Palestine: No more sitting on the fence

Published:Saturday | December 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

On Thursday, Jamaica was among six Caribbean countries that decided to sit on the fence as the United Nations General Assembly voted to declare as "null and void" President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and Guyana all tossed their name in the hat in favour of the resolution, but Jamaica, curiously, did not. Can the minister of foreign affairs please explain the reason Jamaica sat on the sidelines as such an important vote took place?

Trump's decision to recognise Israel's claim to a city that is home to the holiest sites of three of the world's largest faith groups (i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam) enflamed arguably the most volatile frozen conflict. Since his decision was announced, mass protests across the Palestinian territories have erupted, and international condemnation from even America's long standing allies, like the United Kingdom and France, have yet to abate. Jamaica's official and longstanding position on this issue has been the global majority stance - advocacy for continued negotiations towards a two-state solution. Such a solution would enshrine Israel's right to exist within secure borders as well as enable the Palestinian people to govern themselves.

Has Jamaica's 'two-state solution' position changed? If not, then why did Jamaica sit out the vote while most of the world recommitted to the two-state solution and concurrently rejected Trump's unilateralism?

Let the officials at the helm of Jamaica's foreign policy be reminded that our nation's commitment to the notion and exercise of 'international morality' was evident during the apartheid era. During that lamentable period, Jamaicans - government officials and private citizens alike - spoke out energetically against the notion that might equalled right; there was no sitting on the fence while one of the most obvious injustices of the 20th century was imposed upon a militarily and economically powerless population.

Today, some Palestinians live in an open-air prison - an oppressive environment where even basic subsistence activities like fishing and farming are curtailed; a context where even movement within their homeland is severely restricted by an occupation that has no legitimacy in international law. The ongoing heavy-handedness imposed by strong onto weak, even compelled, President Trump's current Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, to warn in 2013 that "either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don't get to vote - apartheid. That didn't work too well the last time I saw that practised in a country."

It's time for Jamaica to rejoin the international community on this issue by vocally and persistently, advocating for a fair resolution to the conflict in the Holy Land and rejecting Trump's unilateralism. Posterity will judge harshly all those who sat on the fence when they had the chance to speak up for justice.

Oliver Leighton Barrett

Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy (Ret)