Editorial

Was principle sacrificed for expediency at the UN?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

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Jamaica , highly respected in the corridors of the United Nations (UN) for its consistently principled stance on international issues, must have writhed in agony while abstaining in last week's vote against Jerusalem becoming the capital of Israel.

In the vote at the UN General Assembly, 128 countries voted in favour of protecting the neutrality of the city, nine voted against and 35, including Jamaica, abstained without explanation. Some countries did not vote at all.

The 35 abstaining countries, as well as the non-voters, must clearly have been indicating the difficulty faced by their nations and their unwillingness to test the resolve of United States President Donald Trump, who had intimated before the vote that those going against the US would attract unspecified but likely dire consequences.

That followed Mr Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, which upended the neutral status of the city, and threw off balance the long running peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians — who adamantly oppose it.

The resolution declared 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status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the (UN) Security Council.”

It further “calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem”.

Jamaica has faced many thorny issues like these before, but has voted its heart and conviction, not always mindful of the retaliatory consequences. That has given us a reputation as a courageous nation.

On this particular issue, Jamaica's traditional approach was for a peaceful resolution through negotiation based on the existence of two states, acknowledging the rights of Israel to exist and the Palestinians to self-determination in a state of their own.

As a small developing country, we have exerted an influence on international affairs far greater than our size, population and level of economic development. Jamaica's reputation in foreign policy started before political Independence from Britain in 1962.

Led by Mr Norman Manley, Jamaica was the first country to impose an import ban on products from apartheid South Africa while, in strict terms of international law, we were not a sovereign state, but a colony of Britain without control of its foreign policy.

Jamaica, thanks to Mr Hugh Shearer, was the country that proposed and piloted the adoption of what became in 1968 the International Year of Human Rights; Mr Michael Manley advocated the new international economic order; Mr Edward Seaga was the first head of g overnment to meet with President Reagan; and Mr P J Patterson was the undoubted leader of Caricom.

Thus, an abstention vote appears to be a change in that long foreign policy tradition, or for some other reason not yet explained by Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith.

She owes it to the country to say what were the goals, what were the considerations and what was the rationale for that vote. Was it to avoid punitive action by the Trump Administration? Was the PM's recent trip to Israel a consideration? Was the Cabinet divided?

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