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Editorial | What’s the deal with Jamaica’s Jerusalem vote?

Published:Thursday | December 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Perchance that this is not another signal that Jamaica is subtly shifting its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the unresolved status of Jerusalem in that dispute, we are disappointed that the island didn't find the courage at the United Nations yesterday to repudiate the United States' move that effectively declares Jerusalem to be sovereign Israeli territory.

We abstained. But it could have been worse, such as with the contentious UNESCO vote last year when the Jamaican delegate, perhaps on instruction from Kingston, wasn't in the room to cast a ballot.

The Geneva episode might have assuaged Israel, which may have been happy to have one fewer country casting a ballot for a resolution that it opposed. But what happened yesterday, if that was the intent, is unlikely to mollify the United States, whose president, the bloviating Donald Trump, is not given to nuance and subtlety, especially of the kind employed in diplomacy.

Mr Trump tends to equate anything or anyone not fawningly supportive of himself and his policies as being traitorous in Opposition. In that regard, Jamaica may well be among the countries firmly in the president's cross hairs.

For the avoidance of doubt, this newspaper believes in, and articulates, Israel's right to exist in security, but within the borders prior to the 1967 war, as has been asserted many times in resolutions of the UN Security Council, therefore having the imprimatur of international law.

We also believe in the right of a home for the Palestinian people in lands adjacent to pre-1967 Israel, and, therefore, support the so-called two-state solution. We also assert that the status of Jerusalem - a city holy to the world's three great monotheist religions, which both Israel and the future Palestinian state would like to have as their capital - remains unresolved and is among the issues to be settled by negotiation.

Further, we cherish Jamaica's long-standing relationship with the United States, as well as America's historic role as a global stabilising force, even as we become uneasy with the crude, crass and volatile presidency of Mr Trump. Notwithstanding the US's known partiality to Israel, it has still entertained confidence as the honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Mr Trump undermined that trust recently when, in a break from a policy maintained by US presidents since Israel's founding 70 years, he announced that America would move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -effectively short-circuiting negotiations on the city's status. At the UN Security Council, 14 of the 15 members backed a resolution opposing that action. The US, one of the body's five permanent members, had to veto the resolution.


Position reaffirmed


Yesterday's General Assembly essentially reaffirmed that position by declaring that "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".

Mr Trump, in character with his presidency, threatened to cut aid to countries that supported the resolution. "... We'll save a lot," he said. His UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, issued similar dire warnings. Yet 128 countries voted in favour of the resolution, with only nine in against. Thirty-five countries, including Jamaica and four other CARICOM members, abstained.

Our Government did not offer an explanation for its vote. Instead, it acknowledged Mr Trump's embassy decision, the international concerns about it, and its own wish for peace and stability in the Middle East through dialogue. It didn't offer a view on whether this could be achieved with Mr Trump's tilt of the status quo in Jerusalem.

Recently, the administration has been seeking to expand relations with Israel. Prime Minister Andrew Holness visited Israeli. He invited Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Jamaica. We support that friendship. But true friends do not equivocate when their friends are wrong.