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Israel’s allies in the south Pacific

world Updated: Feb 02, 2010 01:12 IST
Howard Schneider
Howard Schneider
Hindustan Times
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As Israeli diplomacy goes, it was a smooth affair, unblemished by any of the policy disputes or disagreements that often follow diplomats or officials here.

The visiting heads of state were eager to tour the country and soak up information in briefings by Israeli officials without breaking stride for the typical trip to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah or, as some do, a request to go to the Gaza Strip.

But then relations between Israel and the Federated States of Micronesia and the Pacific island nation Nauru have developed a special logic — an alliance that has given Israel a couple of dependable votes in the United Nations and given the two small nations a source of technical aid on agriculture, health and other issues.

The countries are among the smallest in the world — Micronesia has about 1,08,000 people and Nauru about 15,000 — but their votes count the same in an organisation that routinely considers resolutions and issues related to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

At the end of a five-day trip here, sponsored jointly by the American Jewish Committee and Israel’s Foreign Ministry, diplomats from Micronesia and Nauru said their support for Israel was equal parts political and religious — and in each case unwavering.

As predominantly Christian nations, Micronesia and Nauru sympathise with the idea of Jewish return, members of the delegation said, and as members of the UN they have sometimes — along with the U.S. — been among the few votes Israel could garner.

“Israel is a minority in the Middle East and struggling to survive,” said Micronesian president Emanuel Mori. “We are also out there. We have no enemies, only natural ones. Typhoons come, and we survive. Being surrounded by not-friendly neighbours, we kind of pity them.”

Mori said that Israel’s early decision to support Micronesia’s membership in the UN two decades ago helped cement the relationship.

Israeli diplomats are nothing if not battle-hardened, having faced pointed criticism for the country’s policies toward the Palestinians and its conduct of last year’s war in the Gaza Strip. Under the sometimes combative foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the country has taken a sort of zero-tolerance approach, feuding with Turkey and Sweden over television shows and newspaper articles regarded as anti-Semitic and challenging European officials considered too open to talks with militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

For Micronesia and Nauru, however, it has been all “soft power” — something also on display in recent days through the Israel Defence Forces’ quick dispatch of a field hospital team to Haiti.

There is no quid pro quo, of course, but also no surprise that in the annual round of UN resolutions criticising Israel, Micronesia and Nauru are regular members of what Israeli diplomats like to call their “moral minority.”


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