DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS: Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves defends visit to Middle East

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is among several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that recognise the Palestinian Authority, and Gonsalves, who has just completed a 15-day trip to Bethlehem, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, said that relations between Kingstown and Jerusalem were still important.  

“We have diplomatic relations with Israel,” Gonsalves said as he announced that Ambassador to the United Nations Camillo Gonsalves has been invited by his Israeli colleague to visit that country. 

“Now, one may say that it has something to do with the visit that I have made to Palestine but we are not visiting Palestine and refusing to have relations with Israel. I want to make that plain,” Gonsalves told a news conference, adding that Kingstown addresses its foreign relations in a “principles and open” manner.  

Gonsalves, who held talks with the leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, said that Palestine has been around since the days of the Bible and occupy a swath of territory where the Palestinians, Arabs and Jews have lived for thousands of years. 

He made reference to the UN resolution last year that noted both Palestine and Israel must have their separate states even as the boundaries of the two countries are to be decided. It also called for each country to be secure and the population to live in peace.

Gonsalves said despite both states being the central conflict in the Middle East, all Arab nations support Palestinian independence and that his position is also accepted by the United States although there are still questions about territory. 

Gonsalves said that his administration came to its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after taking several factors into consideration. 

“Our government looks at the issues in a number of interconnected ways including our understanding of the history and circumstance and the theology.

“St. Vincent and the Grenadines … when we hold a position of principle, we articulate it, we are not afraid to state it because we do not arrive at these positions lightly,” he told reporters.

“And that is why our country and I, that we were honoured with an invitation by President Mahmoud Abbas,”  Gonsalves said, adding that only senior government officials from Jordan and Hungary were invited by Abbas to be at the midnight-mass last Christmas Eve. 

“I think this is of some importance and recognition to our country,” Gonsalves said, adding that this country’s relations with Arab states, including Libya and Iran, have contributed to the construction of the international airport here.

He said also Qatar has contributed to the Hurricane Tomas relief efforts and its Emir has promised to visit the island at a later date.

“We are developing a lot of good relations with Arab countries,” Gonsalves said, noting that relations with Kuwait began under the New Democratic Party administration of Sir James Mitchell.

“The Kuwaiti government and the Qatari government, for example, were very pleased with our principled position in relation to Palestine. The Emir told me that at the United Nations and so, too, the Prime Minister of Kuwait. 

“… Our visit to Palestine addresses the issue in relations to Palestine itself but is also an interconnected issue with the building of relations with other Arab state, important relations,” Gonsalves said.

He said that discussion with the Palestinian Authority focused on strengthening relations between both states, education for Vincentians in Palestine and Palestinian pursing studies at post-secondary institutions in St. Vincent.

Gonsalves said discussion in Azerbaijan focussed on nationals studying in that country as well as for investors doing business here, particularly in tourism.

“There is no question that we are going to get assistance from Azerbaijan on the airport. The question of the terms of assistance and so forth will depend on when they come and visit; see what information we give them.

“And I don’t want to talk about ballpark figures, which I spoke to them about. We will wait until they come and when matters are finalised,” Gonsalves said, noting that a team might visit as soon as next month.

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