August 15, 2011
Honduras and the Palestine Vote – Not without American Abdication
By James Colbert
The recent news that Honduran President Porfirio Lobo placed a statement on his presidential website announcing that Honduras would support a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood at the UN is incredibly troubling. If it comes to pass, it will not only be a blow for peace prospects between the Palestinians and Israel but also evidence of a U.S. failure to effectively engage Honduras and points to a larger failure of American leadership in Latin America.
Every country supportive of Middle East peace should oppose the Palestinian gambit for many reasons. For starters, the Palestinian areas do not meet the established legal tests for statehood most notably in that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not an effective government. There are no prospects that this situation will be remedied any time soon. The Palestinians are heavily dependent on trade with Israel. A statehood declaration would likely jeopardize such trade thus throwing the entire Palestinian economy into a tailspin.
Furthermore, the PA does not exercise control over all the territory it claims for its state. The Interim Agreement (Oslo II), which continues to govern land control in Judea and Samaria (often referred to as the West Bank), in effect places 60 percent of the territory under Israeli control. Equally important, recognizing a Palestinian state at this time would mean legitimizing the Hamas terrorist organization by virtue of its reconciliation with the PA. It is Hamas, and not the PA, that rules populous Gaza.
Moreover, a unilateral declaration recognized by United Nations General Assembly could serve as a dangerous precedent in other regions regarding the recognition of new states. At present, there are some 120 separatist movements active across the European, African and Asian continents. Southward from Mexico there are at least ten movements. Honduras and others countries leaning toward support of the UDI should bear in mind that their vote may pave the way for a redrawing of the Latin American map.
Finally, premature recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state is, in effect, a rejection of the basic principle of a negotiated peace – direct negotiations between the two parties, something that Israel remains keen to engage in and to which the Palestinian Authority had committed itself.
But the real question is why has President Lobo decided to switch positions. His new stand on the issue came just hours after he met with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki and appears to take into account the high potential for Arab investment and oil shipments and, quite likely, Honduras’ own large Palestinian population which is heavily represented in the merchant class.
But there is surely more to it than that. There can be no doubt that President Lobo, smarting from what he no doubt considers Washington’s shabby treatment, also made his declaration as a shot across the America’s bow.
The White House’s failure to support Honduras, even after the certifiably free and fair 2009 elections, has pushed a once close friend away. President Lobo clearly feels he must take a position in line with other Latin American countries skeptical if not overtly hostile to the U.S. like Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela.
If the United States wants to see more positive actions in Honduras it must rebuild relations with Tegucigalpa. For starters, the Obama Administration can undo the punitive measures it took in the wake of former President Zelaya’s removal from office which are still in effect despite the November 2009 democratic elections. These include restoring travel visas for Honduras's Supreme Court judges, members of Congress and businesspersons as well as a restoration of all aspects of the U.S. foreign aid that was suspended.
Make no mistake. For the United States, negative trends throughout Latin America are a result of a vacuum created by a pronounced lack of American will. By surrendering a leading role in the Organization of American States (OAS) to Brazil, Washington has, in effect, allowed a new sun to burn brightly over Central and South America. We should not be surprised that the planets there are orbiting it.
Click here to read the original Spanish language article in El Diario La Prensa, the most influential Spanish language newspaper in America.
James Colbert is a Policy Director at The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. He served as an International Observer during the November 2009 Honduran national elections.