Sun 23-June-2024

CARICOM members Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago recognize State of Palestine

Sunday 5-May-2024

On 19 April, 2024, amidst what Barbados’s Prime Minister Mia Mottley described as the world’s first televised genocide in Gaza, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kerrie Symmonds announced the intention of the Government to recognize the State of Palestine. With this announcement, Barbados became the 140th member of the United Nations (UN) to recognize the State of Palestine and the 11th member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to do so. The Caribbean Against Apartheid in Palestine (CAAP), an advocacy group for Palestine based in Barbados, now in its 10th year, welcomed the news and stated it was long overdue. CAAP’s Secretary Lalu Hanuman expressed: “It was a long time in coming, but we have at last got to the mountain top. The Palestinian people have been struggling for their freedom from a racist colonial settler movement since Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917. They have endured countless massacres over the years from the Zionists, culminating in the current genocide in Gaza.”

Barbados’s decision was quickly followed by Jamaica. They announced on 22 April that the Government of Jamaica had taken the decision to recognize the State of Palestine. In her comments, Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith specified: “The decision is aligned with Jamaica’s strong commitment to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which seek to engender mutual respect and peaceful co-existence among states, as well as the recognition of the rights of peoples to self-determination.”

Barbados and Jamaica’s decision left two CARICOM members, Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamas, to recognize Palestine. Trinidad’s Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs Dr Amery Browne announced the country’s recognition on 2 May.

The State of Palestine was officially declared by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on 15 November, 1988, claiming sovereignty over the internationally recognized Palestinian territories: the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. By the end of 1988, the Palestinian state was recognized by 78 countries, including Cuba, the first in the Caribbean region. The State of Palestine was accepted as an observer state of the UN General Assembly in November 2012.

While the US doesn’t recognize the Palestinian state and vetoed Palestine’s full membership of the UN as recently as 18 April, 2024, CARICOM member states have long engaged with the Palestinian people. Guyana led the CARICOM states by recognizing the Palestinian state some 13 years ago in 2011, followed by Suriname, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Belize, Dominica and Antigua & Barbuda the same year. Grenada and Haiti did so in 2013, St Lucia in 2015 and St Kitts and Nevis in 2019.

Over the past decade, as the issue of Palestinian statehood came to the UN, a more robust engagement of Caribbean governments took place by both the Israelis and, significantly, the Palestinians. In 2011, ahead of the UN vote on recognition of Palestine and against a backdrop of the US saying it would use its veto to block Palestinian’s bid for statehood within the 1967 borders, intense lobbying was taking place, and Caribbean governments were being cajoled into action.

It was reported then that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had been promising Caribbean states security and intelligence assistance in return for their UN General Assembly votes against recognition of Palestine’s sovereignty. Israel’s strategy was to have 60 members of the General Assembly vote against the Palestine resolution, abstain or be absent from the Assembly and not vote. Sixty votes would have denied Palestine the required two-thirds majority. For that reason, Israel concentrated its efforts on the 38 members of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Interestingly, Caribbean governments were also being warned of “severe implications” for the region if they did not support Palestine’s application for statehood at the UN. The warning was issued by the then General Secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labor (CCL) Senator Chester Humphrey.

“It has serious implications for governments who are straddled with serious constraints in terms of falling revenues, growing social demands and poverty and large unemployment,” Humphrey told a trade union conference. “This is why we need a very robust foreign policy. It’s the right and just thing to do,” he added. “The Palestinians need a state, and the occupation of their country must come to an end.”

Humphrey stressed that Bible-based ideologies should not be confused with political realities. The senator said that governments should not be worried about any backlash from the US, one of Israel’s strongest allies, since, according to him, it has tightened its immigration policy over the years and has not been pumping considerable funds into the region.

Barbados’s long-overdue recognition is probably best explained by its long association with the State of Israel. Minister Symmonds noted this in his press conference: “Since 29 August of 1967, Barbados has had a formal recognition of the State of Israel, and the relationship between the two countries has been an exceptionally good one. We have benefitted tremendously through technical cooperation with the State of Israel in a number of fields, not the least of which is our efforts at food security and agriculture…”

Notwithstanding this long-term relationship with Israel and the failed attempts in the past by previous administrations to recognize the Palestinian state, most likely due in part to lobbying by sympathizers of the Zionist state, Barbados made the bold step to join most nations of the world in giving recognition. This recognition came against the backdrop of continued calls from Barbadians who understand the plight of the Palestinian people and the long struggle they have endured in securing justice, security and the right of return to their homeland. CAAP’s sponsored protest rally in May 2021 outside the Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs helped draw Barbadians’ attention to the anomaly that, on the one hand, Barbados calls for a two-state solution to the question of Palestine but only recognizes one state and not the other.

A two-state solution at this time may very well be a moot point as Israel continues to decimate the Gaza Strip while enabling settlers in the West Bank to continue their aggressive expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian lands.

Belize, a CARICOM member-state, has gone a step further beyond recognition. In November 2023, in the wake of the violations of international humanitarian law and the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza by Israel, the Belizean Government announced the suspension of diplomatic ties with the State of Israel.

As the people of the world, including students and professors at universities across the US, vigorously pursue their governments and institutions to do right by the Palestinian people, CARICOM member states may have to consider following Belize’s lead and reevaluate their relationship with the Israeli state amidst their continued aggression, occupation, apartheid policies and genocide of Palestinians.

-Suleiman Bulbulia is the secretary of Barbados Muslim Association and is a weekly Columnist for the Barbados Today. He was the former member of the Religious Advisory Committee on National Affairs, appointed by the Prime-Minister and Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs to advise the Government on matters of national importance from a religious perspective. His article appeared in MEMO.

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