Latin America promotes independence for region, Palestine 26Oct11 October 26, 2011

The Alternative Information Centre  -  25 October 2011

The landslide electoral victory of Argentinean President Cristina Fernåndez on Sunday (23 October) was undoubtedly based on her government´s domestic achievements and politics. Yet the record number of votes (nearly 54 percent) and a majority in Congress will also allow her to continue and even reinforce her foreign policy,
especially on particularly sensitive issues such as the Palestinian national struggle.

 Fernåndez´s administration is a prime example of how numerous Latin American governments have matured sufficiently to fully endorse the Palestinian cause without breaking ties or downplaying their relationship with Israel (with the notable exception of Venezuela). Leaders from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile are now in an exceptional position to work as mediators, intermediates or simply facilitators between the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities in a conflict that urgently requires credible third party negotiators.

 Geopolitically, Latin America is still considered the backyard of the United States and, though the majority of governments have adopted a more nationalist and anti-imperialistic discourse in the last decade, the region does not concern American leaders, who are up to their necks with the ongoing military resistance in Afghanistan, the efforts to cover up the disastrous aftermath in Iraq and the new political and regional reality being draw by the Arab Spring revolts. Yet occasionally the region rises up and takes a stance that surprises both Big Brother and the world. This is what happened last year when one by one, the majority of the Latin American countries announced their official recognition of the Palestinian state.

 Numerous analysts interpreted this move as sudden, another element of the so-called new anti-US and anti-imperialist rhetoric. Yet this renewed Latin American interest in the Palestinian national struggle –a major political issue in the region in the 1960s and 1970s- did not spring from a political vacuum and was not simply a shallow and politically correct claim. In 2005, Ignacio Lula da Silva decided to relaunch a dialogue between the Latin American and Arab countries. The initiative was part of Brazil´s well thought out strategy to position itself as a recognized world power and, therefore, a worthy permanent Security Council member in a future reform of the United Nations Charter. Yet this dialogue also shortened the distances between two Third World regions that had forgotten how much they have in common.

 Today, just six years later, Colombia (a declared military and political ally of Israel) is the sole member of these Summits of South American and Arab Countries that has not recognized the Palestinian state. Over the last years the Palestinian Authority leaders have repeatedly visited the region, slowly but surely building a stronger relationship through cooperation accords, commercial interchanges and, finally, the official recognitions that Latin America proudly repeated in the recent UN General Assembly.

 Neither was the shift in Latin America just another example of the anti-imperialist and left wing discourse of many of the Latin American governments. Chilean President Sebastian Piùera is a millionaire businessman with profound admiration for the United States and Europe, not Cuba; Honduras´ President Porfirio Lobo was elected under a dictatorship, politically and military supported by the Israeli government, and he made the announcement while his Minister of Defense was in Israel negotiating an arms deal; the Peruvian Alan García is a converted neoliberal that has proven to be a good ally in Washington´s war on drugs and terrorism in the region; and Costa Rica´s former President and Nobel Peace Prize Oscar Arias is another clear cut American ally in the regional geopolitical design.

 This ideological diversity and the fact that most Latin American countries still maintain a good relationship with Israel – Mercosur signed its first Free Trade Agreement with Israel in December 2007- is evidence that this strong regional stance in the Israeli-Palestinian is not a passing phase, easily erasable when a new conjuncture comes along.

 While the Palestinian diplomatic success is beyond doubt, the shift should not be blown out of proportion. The Israeli government reacted with excessive drama: its Ambassador to Honduras, Eliahu LĂłpez, strongly noted that recognition of the Palestinian state was “a dagger wound in the heart of Israel”, but at least for now the region, as a whole, is not interested in getting involved actively in the conflict. In his last tour to the region, in the beginning of October, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas asked his Salvadoran counterpart, Mauricio Funes, to help mediate between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The proposal didn´t excite anyone and, maybe due to that, the former CNN anchorman is taking his time to respond.

 For the moment Brazil is the only country in the region that has demonstrated real will to play an important role in the conflict and in the Middle East realpolitik in general. Following Lula´s steps, Dilma Rousseff not only fiercely supported the Palestinian bid in the recent General Assembly, but is also trying to mediate in the Syrian crisis, along with India and South Africa. Like with the nuclear negotiations with Iran and Turkey last year, the Brazilian government is attempting to open the international diplomatic arena to others apart from the United States, the European Union, Russia, China and the UN.

 The Argentinean government has chosen a more ambivalent position to date. On the one hand, the President gave one of the tougher speeches in the recent General Assembly: “Stopping Palestine from becoming a member of the United Nations is the same as continuing to give alibis to those who engage in terrorism in the international level”. Yet on the other hand, Fernández doesn´t seem to have a clear and long term strategy to project Argentina as a major player in the Middle East or in any other international scene, other than Latin America.

 On top of that, domestic politics are still too instable and volatile to concentrate too much political capital and time on a foreign issue as sensitive (Argentina has an  influential Jewish community) and geographically distant as Palestine. Nevertheless, Fernåndez has demonstrated sufficient will to follow and strengthen Brazil´s lead in this matter.

 With a region surprisingly united behind it and no great changes in the horizon, Brazil has a good chance to challenge the US one man performance in the Middle East and open the field for other actors, which could contribute to a more credible future peace process in the Middle East.

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