Philippines should carefully weigh policy on Israel


IN AN unsurprising move, the Philippines last week abstained from the United Nations General Assembly vote on the United States’ contentious decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The status of Jerusalem is a very clear faultline in international diplomacy. Jerusalem is of course considered by three religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – as a Holy City.

Politically, Israel and the Palestinian Arabs both claim it as their capital.

To be sure, US President Donald Trump’s historic decision has upended, if not ended, the Middle East peace process.

It should be pointed out however that the international condemnation of Trump’s decision is animated by a near-universal dislike of the billionaire ex-realtor and reality TV star, when any US president, Republican or Democrat, could have made the same decision given the historically close US-Israel ties.

Indeed, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a Jewish nation whose capital is not Jerusalem.

But the geopolitical context within which Trump made his decision has changed. Sympathy has shifted considerably away from Israel decades after it was able to convince the UN General Assembly to partition Palestine into separate states for Arabs and Jews.

Trump, for his part, was undoubtedly influenced by a desire to undo his predecessor Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy, deemed weak by Republican conservatives, as well as by his culture-war crusade in which Obama and the Democrats are blamed for undermining America’s Judeo-Christian moorings in favor of religious and racial minorities.

On top of all this, the Philippines needed to consider the plight of its overseas workers, who are both in Israel and the Arab world.

It was therefore not a surprise that the Philippines abstained from the December 21 UN vote on the non-binding resolution co-sponsored by Turkey and Yemen, which declared as “null and void” Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.

The bottomline nonetheless is that the Philippine abstention is a pro-US stance, or at the very least one that is acceptable to Washington.

The Philippines has generally toed the US line on Israel policy. In 1947, the newly independent republic, still dependent on American aid, was the only Asian country in the UN General Assembly to vote in favor of the Arab-Jewish partition.

The Philippines and Israel established full diplomatic relations 10 years later, and subsequently opened their respective embassies.

The question now is whether Manila will follow the US lead to move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and talks are said to be ongoing in this regard.

This will be a very tough decision for the Duterte administration, and one that should be weighed carefully, taking into account historical precedent and present realities.


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