Is Varela on a peace mission to Israel?

JCV in Jerusalem
                                Juan Carlos Varela greeted by Reuven Rivlin. Photo by the Presidencia.

Varela goes to Jerusalem

by Eric Jackson

Is President Varela up to a peace making attempt in the Middle East? It may sound ridiculous, given Panama’s small stature in the world, Israeli triumphalism and Palestinian leadership that is so dysfunctional as to lack much legitimacy to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people. But look beyond that to the nuances coming from the Panamanian side. Notice the incapacity, alienation and exasperation of the usual great powers and the United Nations. Then consider Panama’s frequent role in the world as a neutral intermediary, notwithstanding things that contradict that with respect to Israel over the years. Yes, Noriega brought in a Mossad guy to organize his UESAT death squad. Yes, Martinelli is in a US jail fighting extradition and trial for his criminal activities using electronic spy equipment bought from Israel. A bland reference to “security” in Varela’s description of his agenda in Israel perhaps means more of that.

At his meeting with Israel’s mostly ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin, Varela had to hear “security talk,” Israeli-style, this coming from Rivlin on the heels of Israeli massacres of unarmed Palestinians across the Israel-Gaza border, with special Israeli Defense Forces attention to shoot Palestinian medical personnel and journalists:

“Every day, Israel faces the threat of terror against our people. What we have seen the last few days on our border with Gaza, reminds us again that Israel has the duty to defend our borders and our citizens. We are doing all we can to avoid casualties.”

So was Varela an eager prop for a screed in favor of war crimes, or was he just listening to one of the belligerents sound off as a person on a peace misson when nations have come to deadly blows often has to do? Some things that Varela said and did leading up to his visit to Israel suggest the latter:

  • After an earlier visit to Jordan, Varela said that Panama intends to open an office to serve Palestinians and Panamanians who live among the Palestinians.
  • Although Panama was listed as one of the countries attending the gala conversion of the US consulate in Jerusalem to the US embassy to Israel, Varela was in the United Kingdom that day. In the UK the Panamanian president met with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who also did not attend the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
  • Before heading out to Israel, Varela made some significant statements to AFP. First, he announced that Panama would keep its embassy in Tel Aviv because “we are among the countries looking for a grand consesus on the subject of a two-state solution.” He also referred to the previous day’s killings of some 60 Palestinians by Israeli troops as “a sad day.”

On his first day in Israel Varela did the usual ceremonial things — planting a tree, visiting the Holocaust memorial garden, touring some of the innovative projects that make Israel one of those small countries that lives largely by its wits that is so attractive for that reason to Panamanians. Both Varela and Rivlin made positive references to Panama’s Jewish community, which maintains active back-and-forth ties of many sorts with Israel.

The main business, however, was to come later in a meeting with Israel’s effective head of state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Varela’s office listed the subjects to be broached as “water, agriculture, technology and security.”

On each of those subjects there is a potential for Varela to raise the Palestinian question. There is the systematic Israeli appropriation of water from the West Bank and there are  frequent Israeli attacks on the Gaza water system. There is the matter not only of the destruction of Palestinian farms on the West Bank, but also whether as Europe does Panama will ban the selling of produce from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories if it bears the label “product of Israel.” Much of Israel’s tech sector is dedicated to military or repressive purposes, including things used against the Palestinians and exports that facilitated the systematic politically motivated spying on Panamanians under the previous administration here. But set aside the controversial politics and Panana has needs in those areas which Israel may be in a position to meet. In the agricultural sector, Panama’s ailing farm sector might find a few products that Israel does not produce and might like to import from us.

Then, what is “security?” Is it the SPI presidential guard training under guidance from veterans of the notorious Shin Bet, or “anti-terrorist” goons organized by the Mossad? Panama has seen those things. Or is it negotiating an end to this long-running property dispute between Jews and Arabs, which has long been one of the principal threats to world peace? An intermediary role is also something that Panama has played in other international disputes.

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