Colombia is one of the few Latin American countries that refused to provide recognition to the State of Palestine. It did not voted against (Panama did). It simply abstained (the other two countries that did it were Guatemala and Paraguay).
According to the Colombian government, state recognition to Palestine must be the result of a comprehensive peace agreement. Therefore, if we gave it the benefit of the doubt, we should interpret its abstention as a reasonable position held by those who believe that a Palestinian unilateral action concerning state recognition was premature and could even hinder an already stalled peace process. To its credit, we should bear in mind that, in 2011, the Colombian delegation to the United Nations Security Council voted against Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Yet, there are a number of reasons to put into question the sincerity of its statements concerning the support given to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In many other areas, such as the process leading to the adoption of a new bill on university education and the proposed constitutional ammendments to the judiciary, the Colombian government proved that its commitment was half-hearted.
After a series of demonstrations held by the students movement, the Colombian government withdrew the draft it submitted to Congress. Since then, it has not submitted any other draft and keeps public universities underfunded. Also, after public uproar against the constitutional ammendments approved by Congress last year (and, above all, the threat of a referendum on the matter), the Colombian government objected the ammendments and asked Congress to revoke its previous decision appealing to a very dubious review procedure. In light of these precedents in the domestic arena, it was merely reasonable to hold doubts concerning the Colombian government’s position towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Was there a way to dispel our misgivings? I reasoned that we could look at what governments that support the peace process would do after the Israeli government announced that it approved the construction of 3000 new habitational units in East Jerusalem (see my post, Observable Implications, in Spanish). Remember, this announcement came as a reaction, although we should call it a retaliation, to the recognition of the State of Palestine. There is a wide consensus on the fact that the construction of new settlements in the occupied territories poses a roadblock to the advancement of the peace process. More specifically, those new settlement make it extraordinary difficult for the State of Palestine to have East Jerusalem as its capital.
In the days that followed the announcement of the construction of those new settlements, many European governments called their ambassadors on consultations and expressed publicly their disapproval to the unilateral action taken by the Israeli government. Even the US government made its condemnatory voice be heard.
Here in Colombia, the media did not register any reaction from the Santos administration. Given that our public agenda remains congested with long pending unresolved internal affairs, the absence of any pronouncement could be attributted to our proverbial provincialism. Being limited to our internal armed conflict and political scandals, our attention seems not to go beyond our borders. Yet, since I wanted to dispel my doubts about the position taken by the Colombian government, on February 13th I petitioned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to tell me whether the Colombian ambassador had raised objections to the construction of new settlements in East Jerusalem.
The first answer to my petition from the Ministry, dated on February 22nd, reiterated the comittment of the Colombian government to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and provided me with links to various sites where one can find that Colombia supports the creation of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders; that it supports the work of the Quartet (US, EU, Rusia and UN); and that it has made pronouncements against the construction of settlements in the occupied territories.
I was not satisfied with this answer for it did not provided me with the information I had requested. In a new message, I reiterated my petition and asked for a yes or no to my questions: Did the Colombian government object the construction of new 3000 habitational units in East Jerusalem? If it did it, would the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provide me with a copy of the verbal note or any other communication in which it stated that objection? I also added that a lack of a proper answer would be a matter of a possible review by a judge since the Ministry might have violated my constitutional right to petition authorities to provide me with information with which I could hold the Ministry accountable for its actions.
The second answer from the Ministry, dated February 26th, states that the Colombian Embassy in Israel confirmed that it did not send any verbal note to the Israeli government concerning the matter of my petition. It reiterates the position of the Colombian government supporting the peace process, underscores that the direction of foreign relations is a prerrogative of the President, and points out that, according to a presidential decree from 2009, the access to the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not public and remains limited to enquiries approved by either the Minister, the Vice-Ministers or the General Secretary, depending on the matter and the purpose of each enquiry.
The timing of this answer is really bad for the Colombian government. Just this week, the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence leaked a report issued by the European Union that describes the settelement construction in East Jerusalem as “systematic, deliberate and provocative” and defines it as “the biggest single threat to the two state solution.” According to rt.com, the same report recommends “to ensure that “no research grants, scholarships or other technological investments assist settlements, either directly or indirectly,” or be provided to agencies working in the settlements (…)” and “advises to ensure that products exported from the settlements not receive an unfair advantage through“preferential tariffs,”and to give consumers an opportunity to make an “informed choice” through clear labeling of products’ origins.”
When I formulated my petition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I acknowledged that the direction of our international relations is a prerrogative of the President. However, I also stated that the actions of the agents who act on his behalf, i.e. the Colombian ambassadors, must become public so that citizens can hold the President accountable for the foreign policy he pursues. Well, its current silence towards the construction of more settlements in East Jerusalem is a decision that must be scrutinized by the public opinion. I believe it is one that deserves a strong criticism from our representatives in Congress.
Last year, on November 11th, two Senators (Lidio García and Arleth Casado) and six members of the House (Fabio Amín, Jimmy Sierra, Mario Suárez, Joaquín Camelo, David Barguil and Pedro Mary Muvdi) were retained by the Israeli Defense Forces at a checkpoint in the West Bank. The members of the Colombian Congress were en route to Ramallah from Jordan to attend an invitation made by the Palestinian Mission in Colombia. The incident ended with a demand from the Speaker of the House, Augusto Posada, for an explanation from the Israeli government.
I hope those Senators and Members of the House will be up to the task of making the Minister of Foreign Affairs, María Ángela Holguín, appear before Congress so that she explains the half-hearted commitment of the Colombian government to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is incumbent on the entire Congress to hold the Colombian government accountable given its indulgent inaction towards the construction of new settlements. Above all, I hope that the Colombian government will change its mind, recognize the Palestinian State, raise strong objections to the construction of settlements in the occupied territories, and communicate those objections to the Israeli government.
This exchange with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also shown us a very important thing on which we have to work: the removal of the obstacles to public access to the information concerning Colombia’s international relations. It is understandable that not all information be of public access, but it is totally unreasonable that the Minister, the Viceministers and the Secretary General become the gatekeepers of all the information stored in the Ministry’s Archive. Such a limited access is incompatible with the democratic character of our Constitution.