16, Number 3
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Left to right: Avigdor Lieberman, Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela. Although Lieberman is Israel's Foreign Minister, leaders of most of Israel's allies --- including Barack Obama --- avoid having their photos taken with him. That's because Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party chants "Death to the Arabs" at its rallies and because, referring to Israel's Arab minority, Lieberman has declared that "They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost." Photo by the Presidencia
Martinelli's statements in Israel cause repercussions
by Eric Jackson
I will always support Israel, guardian of the world's capital, Jerusalem.
President of Panama
Martinelli's sick statement is an objectionable attempt to legitimize the Israeli military occupation of the city of Jerusalem, contrary to the law and to the will of its inhabitants.
National Christian Coalition of the Holy Land
Since the president of Panama announces that Israel is the guardian of Jerusalem, he might need to explain the meaning of his words to the Palestinian families who lose their homes in Jerusalem every week. He might also need to explain to the millions of Muslims and Christians who are denied access to the holy sites in the city.
Fatah central committee member from Bethlehem
The Arab-Israeli conflict is perhaps the gravest and most consequential international problem in recent years. In order to maintain public security and avoid aggravating the situation, Panama should express itself about this conflict with prudence and reserve.
Carlos Guevara Mann
Panama's former Foreign Policy Director General
We knew that Panamanian foreign policy, which has had as one of its basic premises the defense of the canal by maintaining a neutral position in other people's conflicts, had changed last summer. Panama joined just six other countries --- the United States, Canada, Nauru, Macedonia, Micronesia, and Israel --- in opposing a United Nations General Assembly resolution to accept the Goldstone Report, which recommended criminal investigations of both Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and attacks on Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces during the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive. Martinelli resumed his rhetorical attacks on Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist and a Jew who considers himself a Zionist, during his recent five-day visit to the Middle East.
We knew that the UN vote reflected a policy shift rather than a mistake when Martinelli incorporated Israel's Mossad into the Institutional Protection Service as trainers, advisors and presidential bodyguards. The last time the Mossad was active in Panamanian government, it was to help General Manuel Antonio Noriega to conduct a purge of the Panama Defense Forces, a repression that included torture and extrajudicial executions.
Panama's Jewish and Muslim communities are about evenly-sized, around 8,000 to 10,000 each, but of course the Muslim community includes many non-Arabs and much of the Arab community is Christian rather than Muslim. Our censuses don't take such ethnic or religious data, but by all accounts the Panamanian Jewish and Arab communities are small and prosperous and they get along well with one another. There was no public cheering from the Jewish community here about Mr. Martinelli's controversial statement about Jerusalem, but neither were there loud condemnations from Panama's Arabs.
Among this country's foreign policy establishment, however, there was strong condemnation all along the political spectrum. On the right, former Vice President Guillermo Ford advised Martinelli for his own good not to get involved in foreign disputes like the one over Jerusalem's future. On the left, FRENADESO accused Martinelli of explicitly endorsing the dispossession of Jerusalem's Arab population, which it said "exposes Panama to unimaginable risks."
One would not expect the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) to have much good to say about Martinelli's statement, and indeed one of its leading foreign policy analysts, former diplomat Nils Castro, called Martinelli's statement about Jerusalem "imprudent" and said that it complicated the efforts by the United States and the European Union to broker a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Another PRD leader, former Panama City mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, added that "Panama is the custodian of one of the world's main trade routes, so traditionally its foreign policy has been carried with great prudence so as not to involve Panama in problems of other countries."
However, university professor and former diplomat Carlos Guevara Mann is from the anti-PRD political orbit, having served as foreign policy director in the Moscoso administration. His lament that Martinelli's statement about Jerusalem risked both the safety of the Panama Canal and this country's status in world diplomacy was in line with what people in the PRD were saying. It also reflected the thinking of a lot of rank-and-file Panameñistas, who are part of Martinelli's coalition but becoming estranged over issues like the division of political patronage.
The argument over Panama's taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is similar, although far less emotional, to the one that's underway about Martinelli's support for and alleged joint military actions with the Colombian government against our neighbors' leftist FARC guerrillas. The most common feeling here is that FARC is a bunch of thugs, as are the people who are fighting against FARC, and it's not Panama's fight. It is part of a generalized antipathy toward all persons and things Colombian found among many Panamanians, but it's also an opinion held by people who have no xenophobic attitudes but fear that this country could not defend itself in the event that it becomes immersed in Colombia's conflict.
But is it reasonable to think that the Middle East conflict is far away and thus won't affect us as easily as the Colombian civil strife might? Recall two things:
Christian cemetery in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The gravestones are desecrated with the slogan, in Hebrew, "Death to the Arabs." Photo by Jacob Rask
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© 2010 by Eric Jackson
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