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Why we lost Pacific Islands

Dec. 6, 2012 10:38 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 14, 2012 3:12 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- As Israel reflects on losing Europe in Thursday's vote to upgrade Palestine's UN status, mystery shrouds the positions of four Pacific island nations that broke with international consensus and sided with Tel Aviv.

Five of the holdouts -- Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, Panama and the United States -- explained their positions in speeches and statements in the lead-up to the vote, a few of them repeatedly.

But representatives of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau all refused this week to discuss the vote, dodging calls from Ma'an and even their own aides.

The four US-allied Pacific island nations issued no statements and made no speeches, maintaining a curious silence in contrast with votes that suggested they felt strongly about the issue.

A woman who answered the phone on Wednesday but would not say if her name was Amatlain Kabua, ambassador of the Marshall Islands to the United Nations, declined to discuss the vote.

"Is that important to you?" she said of the Palestine resolution. "We prefer to talk in person, not over the phone," she added, before asking if the Ma'an reporter was Israeli or Palestinian.

She added that representatives of the Marshall Islands were engaged indefinitely.

The Marshall Islands has established a firmly pro-Israel track record at the UN since gaining independence in 1979, although its votes tend to follow Israel's ally the United States on most issues.

During a 2005 visit to Israel, then President Kessai Note declared that "We stand proud as one of the very few, most willing and consistent supporters of your country, even on the most controversial of issues."

Today the Marshall Islands is sovereign, but it and Micronesia renewed a "Compact of Free Association" with the US for 20 years in 2003.

The loosely defined "free association" status applies to a former territory that is recognized internationally as independent but chooses to associate itself with another country.

The Marshall Islands was administered along with Micronesia and Palau for decades by the US Navy under the designation "Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands."

Like the Marshall Islands, Micronesia routinely votes with the United States, which has committed billions of dollars in aid to the island nation and its neighbors. A study of both countries' voting records in 2006 estimated that they matched 90.8 percent of the time.

Micronesia's support for the United States is also reflected in the share of recruits it provides for the US military. According to one estimate, 1,000-1,500 of its 107,000 citizens are enlisted and have suffered as much as five times as many casualties as US-born soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The country's ambassador to the UN, Jane Jimmy Chigiyal, did not make a statement before or after the Palestine vote, and she did not respond to inquiries by phone and email. Aides in Micronesia's office in New York said even they were having trouble locating her Wednesday.

Palau also touts its loyalty to the United States and the US military, and it says this close relationship is partly responsible for the island's pro-Israel voting record at the UN.

"Palau a solid ally of the US, which supports Israel," Palau's representative to the UN, Stuart Beck, explained in a 2005 interview.

He said Palau was "grateful to the US for giving them independence, without any violence. The support they give to the US is mutual, since they agreed to a defense relationship, which means the US can establish bases there, if necessary.”

Staff at Beck's office struggled to explain Wednesday why the ambassador could not be reached -- he is from Long Island -- but they said he would get in touch eventually.

Asked when, an aide responded that she "would suggest not to wait."

Nauru's office was more up front about Ambassador Marlene Moses' unavailability.

A staffer told Ma'an that Moses would not be able to return calls "until three weeks from now," and added that she did not know Nauru's reasons for voting against Palestine.
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