How a state should stand up for itself — A Mexican lesson

 04 Feb 2017 - 15:00

When Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu jumped into the US-Mexican brawl on January 28 he clearly did not expect the fierce response he got from Mexico. Like his soul mate in the White House, who appears to conduct foreign policy via twitter, Netanyahu tweeted, “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. I stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”

Naturally, the Mexicans were infuriated by this unwelcome interference. They called in the Israeli ambassador to Mexico and gave him a proper dressing down about the meaning of friendship between countries.

While the apology by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto “for the hurt” might plaster over the wound, it will not prevent it from festering for some time yet.

The truth is that Netanyahu and his right-wing government still want to do business with Latin American countries in the same manner that they have done for decades. The Israelis fail to realise that times have changed and the countries of Latin America will no longer be dictated to, or pushed around by their northern neighbour and its allies, in this case Israel. There is, in fact, intense resentment of any and all attempts to demean and treat Latin American countries as stereotypical “banana republics”.

Last year, the government in Brasilia demonstrated this in the strongest manner when it rejected the nomination by Israel of a controversial settler leader, Dani Dayan, as ambassador to Brazil. After months of stand-off between the two, Netanyahu was eventually forced to withdraw his candidate.

The push back against Israel’s meddling is understandable and expected. It has a long history of propping up right-wing dictatorships in the region. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the Mexicans reacted in the way that they did to Netanyahu’s mischievous tweet. Netanyahu’s personal involvement in support of reactionary groups has been well documented.

In early December 1986, for example, the New York Times reported that during his stint at the Israeli embassy in Washington, Netanyahu had urged aid to be given to the Contras to topple the Sandinista government. Declassified Pentagon documents in the 1980s revealed that Israel conducted an operation called “Tipped Kettle”, in which weapons stolen by the Israel Defence Forces from the PLO in Lebanon were transferred to the Contras.

It is believed that the Israelis were driven to support the Contras because the Samoza regime which was overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979 had provided arms and diplomatic cover for Zionist agents before the creation of Israel.

That said, it is clear from the declassified documents that throughout the 1970s until the 1990s Israel had acted in concert with the US to roll back democratic change in Latin America. This was done invariably through the sale of arms and the provision of training and supplies to shadowy death squads. Several countries in Central America were affected, including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. On the South American mainland, Chile and Argentina stand out notably. In the latter, Israel was a main supplier of arms used by the military junta in its Dirty War (1976-1983) in which over 30,000 Argentinian citizens were “disappeared”.

Current Latin American approaches to Israeli provocations contrast markedly with that of Arab countries. While the Latin Americans are prepared to lay down clear red lines to protect their independence and national sovereignty, Arab states continue to reward Israeli aggression with acquiescence, normalisation and even collaboration. Had there been genuine coordinated resistance by all those affected, Israel would not even have contemplated let alone actually build walls on occupied Arab land.

Furthermore, in the occupied West Bank, some unscrupulous Palestinian businessmen were reported to have made millions of dollars in profit from the sale of cheap cement to the Israelis to build the apartheid wall. Last year, it was reported that there were about 36,000 Palestinians working on construction sites in the illegal Israeli settlements built on land stolen from them, their families or their friends.

Instead of getting better, things are set to get worse. US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner — who he has appointed as special envoy to the Middle East — have donated tens of thousands of dollars to organisations and institutions located in illegal West Bank settlements. Following his appointment as adviser with a special role in the Middle East there has not been as much as a whimper from any Arab head of state. Why not? Back in 1991 both Israel and the US objected to the formal participation of the PLO in the Madrid Peace Conference, so the Palestinians were only invited as part of a joint delegation with Jordan. It is thus well within the rights of today’s Palestinian and Arab leadership to reject Jared Kushner as an interlocutor on peace in Palestine, but there have been no objections that we know of.

This, however, is easier said than done and we are probably years away from anything close to witnessing such a scenario. On the contrary, Arab leaders are lining up to pay homage and pledge allegiance to the new occupant of the White House. If and when they decide to change the realities on the ground in Palestine, the Arab states should consider building stronger ties with Latin America. They could learn a lot about how to stand up to unreasonable and objectionable politicians.

The writer is the Director of Middle East Monitor (Memo).