Behind the ritualized dance of a UN vote on the Middle East, the campaign for recognition of a Palestinian state is revealing hints of a new world order. What’s remarkable about this campaign is not who will vote for or against the resolution, but that the confrontational head count is going ahead at all.
Washington and its Old World allies in Europe couldn’t head it off at the pass. It’s an indicator of the superpower’s waning influence over the global diplomatic process, and the role of emerging nations.
This is, at least to the diplomatic players, no run-of-the-mill nuisance vote at the UN, the kind Israel and Washington have lost, badly, many times before. This is the big one, with major symbolic implications, and perhaps some practical ones, too.
For Canada, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who heads to New York for UN-related events this week but who won’t stick around to speak to the General Assembly and wade more heavily into the Palestinian statehood issue – it has been an issue for behind-the-scenes diplomacy, but not repeated vocal statements. Mr. Harper’s pro-Israel stance has long been known, but Canada has deferred to the United States which is leading the “no” campaign.
In the past, the United States could have been expected to muster enough weight with other countries to avoid confrontation: either by drowning the measure in the UN Security Council before the United States is forced to use its veto, or by forcing the Palestinians to back down or compromise. Not this time.
In the 15-member UN Security Council, U.S. friends Britain and France have been trying to divert the resolution to a less black-and-white outcome; but in addition to Russia and China, a host of emerging-power members – India, Brazil and South Africa – are keen on asserting their independence from that Old World influence.
Beyond that little club, there are some countries who aren’t sticking tightly to their past positions or expectations and seem to be spinning in their own orbits. They are moving away from the United States, Europe and Old World allies and seem less easily swayed.
Turkey: It was once considered the closest thing Israel had to an ally in the Muslim world, but now Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has emerged as the leading campaigner for Palestinian statehood. Public opinion turned when an Israeli raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla killed eight Turks. But Turkey is also following an increasingly independent foreign policy, has a booming economy that is expanding markets in the Arab world to the east, and is emerging as a regional power.
Greece: Once one of the most pro-Palestinian countries in Europe, Greece is now one of the few countries that could shift against statehood: it’s undeclared now, but Israel and Washington hope it will vote against it, or abstain. Athens has shifted support toward Israel, including trying to stop a new Gaza flotilla this year. It’s also become more dependent on the Western orbit: its financial troubles mean it needs the support of U.S.-dominated international financial institutions, and the backing of major European economies such as Germany, which opposes the statehood resolution.
Chile: Among its South American neighbours, Chile’s conservative government might have been seen as a potential candidate to break ranks with left-of-centre neighbours in Brazil and Argentina, and vote along with its largest trading partner, the United States. But Chile has firmly backed the Palestinian statehood quest. It’s emerging as a prosperous trading nation with more than one pole to its interests. Trade across the Pacific, to Asia, now accounts for 48 per cent of Chile’s exports.
Colombia: A South American representative on the UN Security Council, Colombia stands out on Palestinian statehood: it will abstain from the vote, to indicate it believes recognition would be “premature.” What Chile has in international trade ties, Colombia lacks: it still wants a free-trade agreement with the United States, and depends on the United States for security co-operation and other aid. In addition to the United States, its recent governments have also counted another staunch pro-Israel country – Canada – as an ally.
Grenada: The tiny Caribbean nation is one of several bit players on the international stage that has been courted by lobbying diplomats and politicians from the United States and Israel. On a visit to Israel, Grenada’s foreign minister, Karl Hood, was greeted by the president, prime minister and foreign minister. Some members of the U.S. Congress have proposed a bill to cut off some forms of aid to countries that support Palestinian recognition. It is an escalation of long-standing practice on Mideast votes in the UN, where a handful of small island states from the South Pacific and Caribbean have been consistent allies of Israel and Washington on votes in the general assembly.
Canada: Mr. Harper has left no doubt about where his government stands on Palestinian recognition. On Friday, he said that recognition would be unhelpful for Mideast peace, and that Canada will oppose it. It has also worked to lobby against it behind the scenes. Canada’s UN votes on Mideast issues have shifted in recent years, first under Paul Martin and more under Mr. Harper – where it used to abstain on some pro-Palestinian resolutions, it now votes “no” – making Ottawa one of Israel’s most staunch allies at the UN.