Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Ronald Sanders | Establishing even-handedness: Antigua and Barbuda and Palestine

Published:Saturday | June 15, 2024 | 12:05 AM
In this photo provided by the United Nations, members of the UN Security Council vote to approve its first resolution endorsing a cease-fire plan aimed at ending the eight-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
In this photo provided by the United Nations, members of the UN Security Council vote to approve its first resolution endorsing a cease-fire plan aimed at ending the eight-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Sir Ronald Sanders
Sir Ronald Sanders
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On Friday, June 14, Antigua and Barbuda and the State of Palestine established diplomatic relations, advancing the step taken in 2011 when Antigua and Barbuda declared its recognition of Palestine as a state.

The agreement, signed in New York by Antigua and Barbuda’s Foreign Minister Paul Greene, and Palestine’s Ambassador with Ministerial rank, Riyad Mansour, emanated from a decision by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, which was endorsed by the country’s cabinet.

Prime Minister Browne tasked me with the responsibility for negotiating the text of the agreement between Antigua and Barbuda and the State of Palestine. This diplomatic move was strategically sensitive, given the complex dynamics of the Palestine-Israel conflict over Gaza.

Since achieving independence, Antigua and Barbuda, like many nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, has maintained diplomatic relations with Israel. The decision to extend similar relations to Palestine was made, not to repudiate ties with Israel, but to provide equitable diplomatic recognition to both states, thereby supporting our role in fostering global peace and security. Such a role could not be played with credibility and authority, if diplomatic relations exists with only Israel.

AVOID ENTANGLEMENT

Critics may argue that Antigua and Barbuda, a relatively small Caribbean state, should avoid entanglement in the complex politics of Middle Eastern affairs. However, the recent actions of other small states within the European Union (EU) – such as Ireland, Norway, and Spain – illustrate a broader trend. These nations have recognized the State of Palestine, challenging the perspectives of larger EU members and underscoring the importance of self-determination and respect for sovereignty. This principle is crucial for small countries, whose fate should not be dictated by the geopolitical interests of more powerful nations.

The intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine has persisted without resolution since 1947, when the United Nations, then dominated by European nations and the victors of World War II, partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Notably, at that time, no Caribbean countries, except Haiti, were UN members, and the majority of African nations, still under colonial rule, lacked representation. This European-dominated decision-making process left many regions without a voice, a historical oversight that small states today are working to correct, even in the face of enormous pressure.

The declaration of the State of Palestine by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988 marked a significant shift. By then, the global context had evolved, with many former colonies gaining independence and joining the international community. This period saw a swift recognition of Palestine by 78 countries, a movement primarily driven by nations previously marginalised in global decision-making.

GROWING CONSENSUS

Currently, 144 UN member states recognise the State of Palestine. This growing consensus challenges the earlier resistance by some Western nations and highlights the persistence of Israel’s policies perceived as aiming to subjugate the Palestinian people. The increasing global recognition of Palestine not only bolsters the Palestinian people’s claim to self-determination, but also bolsters efforts to reinvigorate the stalled peace process, including by moderate groups in Israel who are fed up with living in a state of interminable war.

While Antigua and Barbuda unequivocally condemns the violence by Hamas against Israel, as well as the disproportionate responses by Israeli forces, it advocates for a balanced approach that supports the creation of two secure and peaceful states. This vision aligns not only with international legal principles of peace and human rights, but also with justice and fairness.

The role of small states in global diplomacy is not merely symbolic; it can be pivotal. The involvement of countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda, brings a unique perspective shaped by histories of colonisation and struggles for self-determination. By participating actively in international diplomacy, small states can help mediate conflicts and push for solutions that larger nations alone have not achieved.

The voice of small states is the voice of moral suasion and truth.

And it is a role that is acknowledged in powerful councils of the world, such as the Congress of the US, where, on June 12, 2024, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Gregory Meeks, singled out Antigua and Barbuda for its leadership role with 24 member states of the Organization of American States “to condemn Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine”. In this, Antigua and Barbuda was on the side of the principles of the UN Charter and international law, including repudiation of aggression and invasion.

The establishment of diplomatic relations with Palestine reflects Antigua and Barbuda’s commitment to upholding international law and contributing to peace. It underscores the influence small states can exert in the international arena, championing justice and equality

Overcoming history is not easy but, if the legacy of ills is not remedied, the world will continue to be plagued by injustice, unfairness and conflict from which no nation, large or small, will escape. Leaders like Prime Minister Gaston Browne exemplify the courage needed to steer these critical decisions, demonstrating that small states can indeed play a significant role in addressing global issues.

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and the OAS. The views expressed are entirely his own. For responses and previous commentaries, visit www.sirronaldsanders.com.