Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas just ended a visit to Colombia to seek support for the statehood bid. President Santos reassured Abbas that Colombia wants the creation of the Palestinian state but kept his initial stance.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Colombia wants Palestine to be the result of a negotiation process. After all, the country’s position in international relations has always been a very liberal one, defending self-determination and peaceful means of conflict resolution. That is why Colombia abstained from voting for the creation of the state of Israel, for expelling Taiwan when China was greeted into the UN, and says that it will now do the same with Palestine. Thus, the bombing of Ecuador is a rare exception, not the rule.
Moreover, the fact that the Colombian government proposed itself as a mediator in the peace process with Israel can be considered by some to be quite predictable: it is an excellent diplomatic maneuver, even more so because it bears no commitment to benefit either side exclusively. It is also not very surprising that Abbas turned down the offer. Indeed, if the Middle East Quartet hasn’t been able to get things moving, perhaps Colombia wouldn’t fare better in that role.
Some may say that Colombia’s position is fixed because of U.S. interests and the pressure of that country in the first’s foreign policy. Some may also say that Colombia’s close relationship with Israel (being one of the latter’s best economic partners in the region), particularly for security equipment procurement, forces Colombia to the said stance. And so the argument goes on about Colombia not being a sovereign state, a proxy of the U.S., among others.
But the truth is that the situation is much more complex than that. Indeed, Jewish pressure groups are stronger in other countries (in the U.S. they are particularly strong), and that doesn’t necessarily mean that those countries have lost their sovereignty, nor that there are international conspiracies. However, it is to be recognized that Palestine’s statehood bid comes at a time when the FTA with the U.S. is finally advancing, which of course presses the Colombian government to play its cards safely.
Nevertheless, it should be remembered that Colombia’s tradition in global affairs has been one of neutrality: The country was neutral in the First World War I and also in the second, until the Germans attacked Colombian vessels. Also, Colombia participated in two peacekeeping operations in Egypt, both concerning Israel, and in the Korean War (backed by a UN resolution).
Whether one likes it or not, the Colombian government is playing it safe, trying to appeal to both parties without the burden of a strong commitment to both sides, just as it has done historically in similar cases like the ones mentioned above and Western Sahara’s referendum. Perhaps Colombia is missing out an opportunity to have a stronger international voice, but it is very doubtful that the country is prepared for such a role, even more so because it is just barely consolidating its regional leadership, let alone a good image internationally.