By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Sri Lanka, together with 127 other UN member states including crucial EU members, UK, France, and Germany, on December 21, voted in favor of the ‘Status of Jerusalem’ resolution submitted by Turkey and Yemen at the tenth emergency special session of UNGA. 9 nations including US and Israel voted against. 35 countries including Australia, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines abstained.
The Emergency session, as provided in Resolution 377 came about due to the US exercising its veto power in the Security Council against the resolution. It can be invoked in instances when lack of agreement among the five permanent members enjoying the power to veto any resolution threatens international peace and security.
It is indeed a pity Resolution 377 option was not considered in 2003 when US and UK unilaterally invaded Iraq without UN sanction, causing immeasurable damage to world peace and security. Neither did member states, now proclaiming a conscience and principles even consider penalties against the offenders. After expressing their displeasure to varying degrees, it was ‘business as usual’ for the international community.
A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo stated, “The vote in favor of the resolution was on the basis of Sri Lanka’s long-held traditional and principled position, which is keeping with the international understanding that Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between two parties on the basis of the relevant UN resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both parties – Palestinians and Israelis and that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian States”.
The stand taken by Sri Lanka from a perspective of principles cannot is faultless. It has stood by Palestine for decades and shunned Israel except when the latter’s expertise was required to fight LTTE terrorism and then to be unceremoniously booted out to appease a local community representing a valuable voter base.
That said, since the advent of the Yahapalana government in January 2009, we the people have continuously been hearing of ‘economic diplomacy.’ Principles were thrown to the winds when Sri Lanka co-sponsored UNHRC Resolution 30/1 with all its intrusive elements. It resulted in the temporary suspension of the threat of economic sanctions, restoration of GSP + and lifting of the ban on Fish imports from Sri Lanka. It also resulted in an unending stream of busybodies visiting Colombo. The President, Prime Minister, cabinet Ministers and Leader of Opposition among others rarely if ever, fail to spare time meet them.
It must be stated, President Mahmoud Abbas of the State of Palestine, despite its almost total dependence on foreign aid for survival took a principled stand and refused to meet US Vice President Mike Pence after the US President’s announcement.
The Yahapalana government has taken pride in having taken a ‘principled position’ on the Jerusalem Resolution. It owes an explanation to the people of Sri Lanka for its ‘unprincipled position’ in ignoring LLRC and Paranagama Commission Reports and co-sponsoring UNHRC 30/1, besides not even discussing the recent Naseby revelations in the cabinet, let alone making use of it to call for the re-evaluation of 30/1.
Needless to state, the main elements of the Geneva Resolution are necessary for any civilized and progressive nation. However, force-feeding of such ideals and principles on a sovereign nation under threat of sanctions is another matter. These are measures Sri Lanka need to recognize and implement as a responsible member of the global community and because it is the right thing to do and not due to threats of sanctions.
President Trump’s threat of economic retaliation against nations voting in favor of the resolution is no different to threats faced by Sri Lanka in Geneva in 2015 and those communicated by the likes of Ben Emmerson and Pablo de Greiff.
On the issue of Palestine, Sri Lanka need be mindful of its nationals currently working in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, nations who voted in favor of the Palestine Resolution employ most of our expatriate workers. They added USD 7.2 billion to our economy in 2016 by way of foreign remittances.
Similarly, Sri Lanka cannot be blind to the fact; the US is the single largest export destination for Sri Lankan products with over 20% of its exports. Exports to the US amounted to US $ 2.81 billion in 2016. Total Imports to Sri Lanka in 2016 was US $ 540 million, while total trade turnover between Sri Lanka and the US remained at an all-time high of US $ 3.35 billion. The balance of trade is in Sri Lanka’s favor amounting to US $ 2.2 billion.
Notwithstanding their Yes vote, it is believed, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and several other Arab states, currently in secret liaison with Israel in their fight against Iran, is suspect of having given their tacit concurrence to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Mexico and Canada, despite their differences with the Trump administration, abstained from voting. They are currently involved in the delicate renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) considered extremely unfavorable to US by President Trump. 1.1 mil Filipino Overseas Contract Workers (OCW) employed in West Asia in 2016 amounted to 1.1 million. Their cash remittances amounted to USD 26.9 billion, a 5% YoY increase. Nevertheless, the Philippines abstained from voting.
Ukraine voted in favor of the resolution in the vote taken at the Security Council. However, its Representative was one of the 21 who developed the urge for a call of nature at voting time during the UNGA session, commonly known as ‘Toilet Syndrome’. Shortly after that, according to the Wall Street Journal, President Trump has approved plans to send Javelin anti-tank missile systems to Ukraine to help fight Russian-allied forces.
The foreign policy of small nations must necessarily be an extension of its key domestic policies and shaped in a manner best suited to safeguard and promote its short and long-term interests. Towards this end, visionary leaders are a prerequisite.
The US President is on record stating; “Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you, and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.” President Trump cannot retaliate against all 128 nations who voted in favor of the resolution. However, the most powerful country in the world will not and cannot remain impervious to nations who voted against its interests.
A hit list of nations is bound to contain small, aid dependent nations such Sri Lanka. They will not be in the same league as India who voted in favor but probably, will escape retaliation in view of the new Indo-Pacific security arrangements being mooted by US to contain Chinese expansionism in the IOR.
It will not be too long before Sri Lanka learns if its ‘Yes’ vote based on a ‘traditional and principled position’ would have repercussions. The next session of U.S.-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council scheduled in Washington is but a few months away. US could also take an even more aggressive stance against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva.
Did Sri Lanka err in not abstaining from voting in the ‘Status of Jerusalem’ resolution?