Discourse 330 Palestine: Jonathan in the Jaws of the American Crocodile
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The resolve of Jonathan and his administration will soon be tested in the area of foreign policy. Nigeria’s vote will be essential for the recognition of a Palestinian State by the Security Council. If history is anything to go by, Nigeria will side with the Palestinians. However, I am beginning to sense that the possibility of the Jonathan administration to abandon our historical tradition of supporting the cause of freedom across the world is also high. This short essay is an attempt to alert Nigerians who believe in such a cause of the impending danger that their country stands the danger of becoming the tool that would scuttle the noble objective of Palestinian independence.
Jonathan would not have bothered were it not for the desire of the United States to block the Palestinian application at the Security Council when the matter is put to vote possibly later in the month. Blocking it will postpone the establishment of a Palestinian State but it will bring a lot of setback to American diplomacy in the Middle East and question its commitment to the cause of freedom. Having it both ways – preventing a Palestinian state without losing credibility – is the ultimate goal of its ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Right now, the Palestinians said they are sure of eight votes, just one less than the nine they need for their proposal to scale through at Security Council. Nigeria, a long term ally of the Palestinians, is seen as holding that essential additional vote. Working on Nigeria has therefore become essential for the Americans.
Unfortunately for the Palestinians, they are requesting this vote when their long-term ally is in its most vulnerable condition. The Nigerian state is in a terribly weak state where principles are recklessly abandoned and rule of law is the most relegated in policy matters. Under such circumstance, the President becomes a monarch who rules by discretion rather than consensus, rule of law and common good. In addition to the weakness of the state, the President is himself vulnerable, making the country a classical prey of American diplomatic pressure.
The Americans played a role in the ascent of Jonathan to the Presidency. They looked the other way when Jonathan violated the zoning principle. They approved his elections despite complaints of the malpractices that took place. Their support at each of these stages helped win other members of the international community for the President. America, as Wikileaks has revealed, has been a major source of inspiration for Jonathan. Jonathan also looks up to America for support in handling his domestic concerns like the case of Niger Delta and Boko Haram. In short Jonathan is deeply indebted to the Americans. Would they come to his doorstep asking for help, he is likely to be inclined to offer it.
Such a moment is now when America feels isolated in the face the current worldwide support for the Palestinians. A recent poll conducted by Pew Research for People and the Press indicated that 42% of Americans support the Palestinian proposal. Only a minority 26% opposes it, while 32% remain undecided. A BBC-GlobeScan poll across 19 countries suggests that “more people (49%) back UN recognition of Palestine the 21% that oppose it. According to the polls the proposal won 45% support in America, 56% in both Philippines and China, 54% in France, 53% in both Germany and UK, 90% in Egypt, 60% in Turkey, 52% in Pakistan, 51% in Indonesia, and the lowest 32% in India. In none of the 19 countries was opposition to the Palestinian bid found to be up to 30%.
Clearly, the Obama administration, like those before it, is on the wrong side of the divide. If the tenets of democracy were to be strictly followed, the Palestinians will have their way even in Israel. A poll conducted by Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey has shown that 70% of Israelis have indicated their willingness to support the creation of a Palestinian state if the UN chooses to recognize it.
With the above figures, one can clearly see why the Obama administration is desperate to quash the proposal at the voting stage, without being forced to use a veto that is definitely unpopular in the eyes of the world. Nigeria, particularly in its present weak state, is the best tool to employ.
Apart from the moral support that Jonathan would continue to enjoy from the Americans, it will be difficult to see any benefit that Nigeria will get from abandoning the Palestinians whose autonomy it approved of two decades ago. In any case, the Americans will definitely not stop buying Nigerian oil nor would they switch their support in favour of Jonathan’s opponents. On the other hand, both the Nigeria and Jonathan administration will have many things to lose. The country will damage its image as an independent nation capable of leading the continent on future diplomatic issues. Already, its premature recognition of the NTC in Libya did not go down well with other AU members, particularly with the southern African states. Failing to support the Palestinians will leave no one in doubt that Jonathan is not the befitting Nigerian President that Africa will look up to for inspiration. A similar risk obtains in relation to OPEC, which is dominated by Arabs. Etc.
If I were Jonathan I would beg the Americans not to weaken my position any further. I will also make them understand that it is in their best interest not to veto the vote because there is definitely a limit to the patience of the world and the American public to continued Israeli atrocities. This is a golden opportunity for the American government to prove that it believes that Palestinians too are worthy of the same freedom that America actively intervened to accord citizens of many other nations.
However, Nigerians cannot afford to wait for Jonathan’s chance to convince the Americans. We need to strength him in our own way. Though a Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given an assurance of a sort that Nigeria has decided to take a principled stand on the matter, the ambiguity in his speech has not dismissed the fear of disappointing the Palestinians at the last minute. The position the President promised American and Israeli officials when he met with them in New York last week remains a guarded secret. That is the more reason why Nigerians must not wait until a permanent damage in their foreign policy is done. A pressure from within is required to balance the external one emanating from the Americans and the Israelis.
Extensive coverage of the matter in the media will therefore be apt. But since it is a matter of federal policy, the National Assembly needs to step in and make clear what is the stand of the nation on the issue. Leaving the Presidency alone in its present state of vulnerability is very risky. Not only will our support strengthen the President, it will also provide him with an alibi for declining the American request.
Unless such protection is given to the President, he is surely going to be a small prey in the undeniably powerful jaws of the American crocodile.
1 October 2011