The justification of Colombia’s refusal to support Palestine’s effort to obtain full UN membership is based on two arguments: That it would hinder the peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict and that Colombia is only following a historic position on the issue. Both are fallacious arguments that only seek to disguise Colombia’s lack of an independent foreign policy on this affair.
While campaigning for the presidency in 2010, President Juan Manuel Santos responded to accusations of flip flopping by saying that, “Only the imbeciles don’t change of opinion when circumstances change.”
The circumstances surrounding the conflict between Palestine and Israel are continuously changing in Israel’s favor and to the detriment of Palestinians right to a self-governing state based on the 1967 borders. These circumstances are responsible for the decision of 25 countries to recognize Palestine since 2005, which includes 11 of the 12 South American countries, with most changing their positions since 2010.
Colombia’s vote supporting Palestine would not signify full UN membership given that Washington already pledged to veto the initiative. Nonetheless, Mahmoud Abbas and all countries supporting his plea are well aware of the massive symbolic and moral victory to the struggles of the Palestinian people. It would pressure not only Israel, but most importantly the U.S. political establishment – that has been hijacked by the Israel lobby, claiming otherwise is naive – to genuinely support a peace process.
Santos position is largely dictated by the U.S. and Israel, albeit he gladly follows the script.
Washington’s leverage over Colombia has various components. The $7.6 billion Plan Colombia, the FTA ratification and, most importantly, the economic dependence on the U.S. South American countries have disregarded Washington’s pressure to support Israel thanks to the independence that China, as the top export market for many, has brought. In contrast, 37.5 percent of Colombia’s total exports in 2011 have reached the U.S., while the second export markets, the Netherlands and China, received each 4.6 percent of total exports. The FTA will only increase this dependence.
Israel’s leverage over Colombia has also been responsible for Santos’ position. In Colombia there is nothing resembling the powerful Israel lobby in the U.S., especially when the Jewish community only numbers around 4,000 people. Rather, Israel’s strategy consists in establishing close personal relations with Colombian high level officials to sell military equipment including technical and military expertise.
Since 2006, when Santos became Defense Minister, this special relationship reached new heights. Around this time Bogota obtained the license from Israel to manufacture the Galil assault rifles. In 2007, an Israeli firm, Global CST, owned by a former Brigadier General Yisrael Ziv, was awarded a $10 million contract to provide security advising and equipment to Colombia’s Special Forces. In late 2007, Santos signed with Israel’s state-owned company Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) a $160 million contract to acquire 13 Kfir fighter jets and upgrade 11 more. The military, therefore, needs to heavily rely on Israeli expertise and spare parts to service the jets as well as to lead investigations of frequent crashes.
Such contracts were more the result of personal interactions than objective appraisals of the companies. A Wikileaks diplomatic cable indicates that in late 2009, Santos successor as Defense Minister, Gabriel Silva Lujan, overruled the Armed Forces Commander over a decision to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles citing dissatisfaction with Israeli companies’ less than stellar services and expertise. The cable, classified as secret, also manifests the embassy’s concerns with Global CST and IAI. Moreover, it asserts that 38 percent of Colombia’s defense budget, roughly 300 million dollars, went to Israel in 2007 and, more telling, that Yisrael Ziv is Santos’ “personal acquaintance.”
On an effort to save some face, Santos announced the desire to serve as mediator between Israel and Palestine. But if Santos cannot even mediate between a foreign oil company – where the government through its state-owned oil company Ecopetrol is a partner in oil exploration – and its exploited Colombian workers, what can he accomplish in this complex issue?
Santos intransigent stand is not explained by him being an imbecile, for even an imbecile has some autonomy.