Friday, 30 November 2012

The voting behaviour surrounding UN resolution 67/19

(or "why do the Pacific Islands hate Palestine?")

I've recently become obsessed with doing the geography quizzes on Sporcle, partly because all the talk of how many independent countries there are in the world etc piques my interest in world geography, but mainly because I like being able to give pointless answers when geography questions come up on Pointless. So naturally, I was intrigued to see how the world voted in the recent UN vote to give Palestine official non-member observer state status, particularly when I noticed a couple of trends. Let's go through the continents one-by-one and look at how it went. I should point out here that my definition of which continent a country is part of is generally based on the Council of Europe, so that means Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are included as part of Europe, even though they span both Europe and Asia.

Europe

Europe was pretty evenly split between voting in favour of the motion and abstaining, with the Czech Republic out on its own as the sole "no" voter. The main trends here are that the Nordic countries all voted in favour (no surprise there), as did all the Eurasian countries mentioned above. There's a bit of an east-west split in the mainland of Europe, with the west generally voting in favour and the east generally abstaining, although that depends on your definition of "east". Germany and the Netherlands' abstentions made me think there might be some politics around the US's foreign-based nukes, but the fact Belgium, Italy and Turkey all voted in favour blows that idea out of the water. You could certainly draw a line between the Dutch-Belgian border, taking Germany into the "east", snaking round Austria to the west and stopping at the coast where Italy meets Slovenia, and you'll see a pretty clear split, with just the playboy states of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino being anomalies. In fact, I've made a crude drawing to show that the cowards of Europe* form a pretty nicely self-contained landmass.

(As you can see, I've excluded Scotland, since our government has made it clear it would have supported Palestine's bid if we had a vote, but the Northern Irish and Welsh governments have not, as far as I can tell, made any such proclamations. And Ukraine only escape by dint of not being present at the vote.)

Oh, and it's worth noting that Serbia was alone amongst the former Yugoslav states in voting for it (Kosovo not having a UN vote, of course), which presumably is some sort of overhang from the various troubles there in the 1990s.

*This is not entirely serious - I've always been a fan of Germany and eastern Europe. But they DO all have splinters up their bums...

Asia

As you might expect (certainly in the middle east), Asia was almost unanimous in backing Palestine, with Israel being the rather unsurprising sole voter against, and just Mongolia, South Korea and Singapore abstaining. There doesn't seem to be any instantly obvious reason for this, until you do a bit of digging and find that Mongolia and Israel have forged close links in education and agriculture, and Singapore has a history of close links with Israel. As for South Korea, perhaps it's as simple as trying to keep the USA onside in terms of the North-South Korea situation (although I expect that's not exactly difficult...)

Africa

Africa is one of just two continents (the other being South America) where nobody voted against Palestine. On top of that, just five African nations abstained, those being Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (as opposed to plain old Republic of the Congo), Malawi, Rwanda and Togo. I always imagine that places which have a recent history of colonisation are likely to favour other nations declaring independence or making bids for statehood, and this perhaps backs that idea. On the other hand, perhaps it's simply because many African nations don't recognise Israel as a state, and obviously it's not exactly rocket science why the Islamic African nations support Palestine.

North America

Right, here's where you can start having great fun trying to work out the motives behind the votes, generally through decades of aggressive US foreign policy pissing loads of countries off. The vast majority of central America - most of whom have been subject to interference from the USA at some point over the past 60 years - voted in favour of Palestine (and perhaps countries in Europe should start looking at just how many friends the US has thanks to its many "interventions" throughout the 20th century). Guatemala and Haiti abstained, although Guatemala historically has strong ties with Israel anyway, and Haiti received significant aid from Israel in the aftermath of their earthquake, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that both countries would be sympathetic to Israel's position. I can't really think of any reason why the Bahamas and Barbados were the only Caribbean countries to abstain - maybe relations with the US are particularly strong in those two former British colonies? - but it's certainly no surprise that Panama voted with the USA considering the history between the two countries since the US invasion in 1989. Perhaps if Panama was governed by the leftist PRD, things would have been different.

Heading further north, the USA was obviously never going to vote any other way than against Palestine, and it's hardly a surprise that Mexico voted the same way as the majority of the central nations. But I think the big shock for a lot of people was Canada, since people assumed Canada was a fair country, almost a sort of North American equivalent of Scandinavia, and it seems a bit odd seeing them voting with the USA on this. Still, they have their reasons, whatever you think of them.

South America

So as previously mentioned, no South American country voted against the resolution, and with Latin America  having generally turned its back on the Washington Consensus and embraced leftist politics, it's hardly a massive surprise they generally voted the opposite way from the USA. Not everyone, though - Colombia and Paraguay both abstained, which is less of a surprise in Colombia than Paraguay perhaps, since Colombia is one of the few Latin America countries that hasn't turned to the left (although that didn't stop Chile supporting Palestine). Mind you, Paraguay has fallen out of favour with the rest of Latin America since the coup d'etat removing Lugo as president, so perhaps this is just a result of that. (Paraguay also happens to be the only South American country to recognise the Republic of China, so it's not the first time Paraguay has not gone along with the Latin American consensus.)

Oceania

Okay, this is what really intrigued me about the vote. Oceania is by far the most opposed to Palestine of all the continents, with just three of the fourteen nations voting in favour, and four voting against (six abstained, while Kiribati was absent). New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu all voted in favour, but the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau all voted against. This seemed pretty random at first, but it turns out that the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau are all Associated States of the USA, meaning the USA provides defence, funding grants and access to US social services under the terms of the Compact of Free Association agreement. Suddenly, all becomes clear. Meanwhile, although not part of COFA, Nauru is seen as one of the few bankable votes Israel has at the UN.

Two of those who voted in favour have recently forged ties with Iran, with Tuvalu getting involved in Iranian oil imports, and Iran granting $200,000 worth of scholarships for the Solomon Islands; meanwhile, New Zealand seems to be one of those rare countries that actually practices what it preaches in terms of seeking a two-state solution - something countries like Germany and the UK could learn from. As for the abstainers, it's no real surprise that Australia abstained, since it has strong relations with the USA. (In fact, Julia Gillard wanted to vote no, as she has long been a supporter of Israel, but was met from resistance from backbenchers.) I have no idea why countries like Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu abstained - perhaps torn between not wanting to look like dicks and not wanting to fall out with neighbouring countries. Either way, it's fence-sitting.

(Having said all that, perhaps it's merely as simple as the fact that the 50th state of the USA is, in fact, in Polynesia... And the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are in that area too...)

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