CARICOM aligns in unified stand for Palestine and peace

After 13 years, the 14 independent member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have finally aligned their individual positions on recognising Palestine as a State.

As of May 7, 2024, all 14 CARICOM states now recognise Palestine as a State. The most recent countries to do so were Barbados on April 19, Jamaica on April 22, Trinidad and Tobago on May 2, and The Bahamas on May 7.

The 13-year delay in CARICOM countries reaching a common position on Palestine was largely influenced by the United States. Successive US administrations have opposed the United Nations’ recognition of Palestine as a State and have consistently pressured countries worldwide to follow suit.

Indeed, when six CARICOM countries chose to recognise Palestine in 2011, the US was notably displeased. Although the US has long advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it insists that Palestinian statehood should emerge from a negotiated agreement with Israel. In 2011, as remains true today, the absence of ongoing dialogue and a viable agreement between Israel and the Palestinians led the US to withhold support for unilateral recognition of Palestine.

Partly in response to the US pressuring the Palestinian Authority to withdraw its 2011 UN membership application, six CARICOM member states chose to recognise Palestine as a state at that time. The US stance, threatening to veto any Palestinian application, was widely perceived as inequitable.

Motivated by empathy for the historical struggles and quest for self-determination of the Palestinians, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname decided to recognise Palestine as a State. Within the next four years, Grenada and Haiti joined them in 2013, followed by Saint Lucia in 2015, and St Kitts and Nevis in 2019.

To be clear, the decision of the 10 CARICOM countries to recognise Palestine was not antisemitic then, nor is it now. All 14 CARICOM countries have maintained continuous diplomatic relations with Israel. For instance, Haiti recognised the State of Israel in 1949 after supporting the UN’s 1947 partition plan that led to the creation of Israel.

Regarding diplomatic ties with Israel, several of the longest-standing CARICOM members established connections shortly after their independence: Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 1962, Barbados in 1967, and The Bahamas in 1974. This pattern continued with Grenada in 1975, Dominica in 1978, Saint Lucia in 1979, St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1981, Antigua and Barbuda in 1983, St Kitts and Nevis in 1984, and Belize in 1985. Guyana was the last to establish diplomatic relations, doing so in 1992.

Before recognising Palestine as a State, these Caribbean nations not only maintained diplomatic relations with Israel but also consistently supported a two-state solution. They advocated for Israel and Palestine to exist as neighbouring states within mutually agreed boundaries.

Until 2011, all CARICOM countries remained neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict. They engaged with Israel as a UN member state and developed various economic cooperation and technical assistance programmes with it. Meanwhile, Israel maintained a strong diplomatic presence in the Caribbean, in its quest to keep Caribbean countries at least neutral in the UN.

The recent recognitions of Palestine by CARICOM countries represent a notable shift in their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Undoubtedly, humanitarian considerations influenced the decision of the remaining four CARICOM countries to join their peers in recognising Palestine. The response of Israel to the October 2023 attack by Hamas, which resulted in 1 139 deaths and 248 hostages, was widely viewed as disproportionate and inhumane.

As reported by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of April 22, over 34 000 Palestinians, including 14 685 children and 9 670 women, had been killed in Gaza. Additionally, 77 084 people have been injured, and more than 7 000 are believed to be under the rubble, according to Gaza’s Health authorities. The horror of these events, broadcast live on global television, made it nearly impossible for CARICOM governments to remain unaffected. In response to the Israeli actions in Gaza, the Belize government suspended diplomatic relations with Israel.

The insistence of the US on vetoing a second attempt by Palestine to seek UN membership in April 2024 likely also influenced the remaining four CARICOM countries to recognise Palestine as a State. Amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Palestine had resubmitted its 2011 membership request to the UN Secretary-General on April 2. However, during a Security Council vote – two in favour, one against, with two abstentions – the US veto on April 18 prevented the adoption of a draft resolution that would have recommended the General Assembly vote on allowing Palestine full UN Member State status.

Equity in pursuing a two-state solution cannot possibly be served by preventing Palestine from operating as a state within the United Nations on equal terms with Israel. Moreover, the Israeli government’s continued aggression in Gaza – resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands, the deaths of several thousand, and the denial of urgent humanitarian assistance – swayed the last four CARICOM countries.

CARICOM countries understand that recognising Palestine as a State is crucial for several reasons. This recognition provides a framework for Palestinian representatives to discuss vital issues such as borders, security, and refugees. It reinforces Palestine’s territorial claims to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Additionally, it enables the use of international legal mechanisms for settling land-related disputes, and it sends a clear message to neighbouring countries, especially Israel, that the international community acknowledges and supports Palestine’s rights.

By recognising Palestine, CARICOM countries not only advocate for the rights of Palestinians but also affirm their commitment to international law and peace processes. This includes supporting Palestine’s inclusion as a full member-state in the UN, reinforcing their endorsement of a peaceful resolution and coexistence between Israel and Palestine. The harmonisation of all CARICOM countries’ positions on recognising Palestine after years of individual deliberations represents a blend of empathy, historical awareness, and a steadfast commitment to justice and peace.

This unified stance by CARICOM countries strengthens support for a two-state solution, emphasising the region’s principled approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just as Israel has the right to exist as a State and as a homeland for Israelis, so too does Palestine for Palestinians.

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