Times 2

Will others follow Latin America on Palestine?

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 13, 2011 (IPS) - With seven Latin American countries formally recognising Palestine as an independent state, there is one question floating in the corridors of the United Nations: will Asia and Africa follow suit?

"It is a decision to be made by individual countries in their respective capitals," says one UN diplomat, who also ruled out any chances of a collective decision by regional or other power blocs such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or African Union (AU).

But still, the Latin American initiative is expected to pick up steam within the region as other countries join the growing list. The move was led by outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva when he made the announcement to formally recognise Palestine back on Dec. 3.

A general view of The Dome of the Rock is seen from the Christian quarter in Jerusalem's Old City January 12. Reuters

The decision followed an appeal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has remained frustrated over the intransigency of Israel and also the continued breakdown in peace talks in the Middle East.

Brazil was followed by six other Latin American countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. According to diplomatic sources here, Peru and Paraguay are expected to follow in the footsteps of the seven.

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS the recent announcements are an important indicator of the increasing engagement of Latin America within the broader issue of Israeli occupation and the Middle East. She said none of these countries were among the 100 or so states that recognised Palestine as a state, following the 1988 Declaration of Independence.

"And most of them at that time were still governed by either US-backed military dictatorships or early post-dictatorship neo-liberal governments that were still dependent on Washington," said Bennis, who has written extensively on the Palestinian issue and is author of 'Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy US Power.'

Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report, told IPS the moves by Latin American countries to recognise Palestine as an independent state should "primarily be understood in the context of the growing vote of no confidence by the international community in US leadership of Middle East diplomacy".

During the past decade or so, he noted, Latin American states have emerged as increasingly independent and confident players on the world stage, resulting in increased tensions between them and Washington, and these latest moves also reflect that context. Bennis pointed out that Brazil's shift is particularly important, given its increasing global stature and current position on the Security Council as a non-permanent member.

"Its clear willingness to challenge US domination of Middle East issues was evident earlier when Brazil joined Turkey to orchestrate a potential deal with Iran on the nuclear issue, and with a new president (Dilma Rousseff) eager to prove her independence, a further move in this direction may be likely," she added.

The presence of Brazil, Argentina and especially Chile on this list also provide a kind of political cover for the smaller but more left governments in Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia and Venezuela, which otherwise would face greater international -- meaning US -- pressure, as well as risk having less impact, said Bennis.

Rabbani argued that an additional reason that Latin American rather than Asian or African states are taking the lead on this issue is that until the recent democratisation of Latin America, the region was generally tightly controlled by the US and solidly pro-Israel. "Not least because of the extensive web or relations between Israel and the various terror regimes that ruled much of Latin America in previous decades," he added.

Thus, while most Asian and African states recognised Palestine when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) declared independence in 1988, virtually no Latin American states did. This means that relatively few Asian or African states will be following suit — they've already recognised Palestine's independence.

"Given the latter's increasingly close ties with the US and Israel in the intervening decades, I also wouldn't expect them to play an active leadership role in current efforts to transfer custodianship of the Palestine question from the United States to the United Nations," said Rabbani.

The only exception, he noted, would be certain key states like South Africa -- which until apartheid's demise was Israel's most important African ally. "It is an interesting observation that presently, the level of autocracy and dictatorship in Third World states — including Arab states — tends to correlate with the warmth of the relationship with Israel," Rabbani declared. "I think the focus in the coming months will increasingly move to Europe."

He asked: "Will the European Union (EU) and European states continue to moan privately about how the US is gleefully pushing the Middle East into the abyss while refusing to challenge its policies, or will they begin to act more autonomously?"

The key issue, Rabbani said, is not whether they will recognise a purported state of Palestine, but rather whether they will begin to arrest and reverse their various forms of support for Israel's settlement enterprise in the occupied territories — settlements that are illegal not only under international law but also according to the EU interpretation of international law.

"In other words, will Europe begin to attach consequences to Israel's conduct, or continue to lend it limitless impunity on the pretext of partnership with Washington?" Rabbani asked.

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Will others follow Latin America on Palestine?


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