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CRUCIBLE: Palestine blips

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(A brief paper presented during the webinar, “On Mabini Dialogue Series: Navigating Philippine-Palestine Relations – What’s Next?” organized by the Foreign Service Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs, Manila, on 24 February 2022).

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 27 February) –  It is an honor to be invited by the Foreign Service Institute and to sit together in a panel discussion with two distinguished gentlemen – Ambassador Saleh Mohammad, the Ambassador of the State of Palestine to the Philippines; and Assistant Secretary Alfonso Ferdinand Ver of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is even more heartwarming, much less encouraging, that the subject “Philippine-Palestine Relations” has blipped once again in the radar screen of Philippine government particularly the DFA. 

The term navigating implies to wade through sea or ocean with waves may be serene, rough and tortuous or can even be wrought with tempest. The normative points of Ambassador Mohammad on Philippine-Palestine relation can be connected with ASec Ver’s historical appraisal of Palestine and the conflict with Israel and what the Philippines has done so far to push forward Philippine-Palestine relation. Undeniably however, there is a wide gap on the two presentations requiring some backdrops. I’d like to fill-in this gap. It is generally culled from the book published by FSI, “Philippine External Relation: A Centennial Vista (1998)” where I wrote the chapter, “The Philippines and the Islamic World.” I used to frequently visit the DFA Library some years ago. It is one of my favorite places to lounge at when doing research about the Middle East.

The two perspectives raised by our speakers are emblematic of States’s attempts, like many others, to rally on the historicity and legitimacy of Palestine. Their perspectives reflect a shared narrative of State’s sovereignty and self-determination and show how the two entities – the Philippines and Palestine – tried to maintain their relationship how increasingly distant or asymmetrical their standing and position have become throughout these years. Their presentations also resonate a sense of nostalgia over the supposed historical relation of then nascent Philippine Republic that was beginning to assert itself on the world stage particularly when UN Secretary General Carlos Romulo stood pat against Partition Plan of Palestine in 1947. 

It could be stated without exaggeration that such historic support of the Philippines on Palestine was, by and large, the most symbolic position the Philippines had done in the cause of the Third World. By extension, it could be stated, too, that Palestine was the first state the Philippines recognized when other Third world and Islamic countries were yet to be born. 

Regardless of the trajectory that such relation has taken, there is no question that the development of their subsequent relation like those points raised about Philippines support of UN resolutions on Palestine including their continuing cultural diplomacy, it would indeed show how the country has given premium into such weight of history as something pivotal in sustaining Philippine support on Palestine. 

On the contrary, there is a need to move our frame beyond history. Realism must guide our understanding of Philippine-Palestine relation. A crucial question has to be raised why despite such historic beginning of Philippine position on Palestine, subsequent Palestine issues hardly blip in Philippine radar screen in succeeding years.

First, Palestine has largely and consistently been underpinned by geopolitics of colonial and Big powers whose resultant effects are generally in favor of Israel while intensifying the colonization and illegal occupation of Palestine.

The Philippines, having been subjected albeit invariably with such geopolitics, has unfortunately been swayed with what may be referred to as over-pragmatism primarily in relation to the United States and secondarily to Israel to the chagrin generally of Palestine. This explains fundamentally the turn-around of the Philippine government on UN Partition Plan in 1947 from principled and statesmanship stance of Sec. Gen Romulo. The reason is that, the Philippines was negotiating with military agreement with the United States pressuring the government to change position and eventually support the UN Partition Plan.

Second is the changing mood of Philippine foreign relation on Palestine, and for that matter, the Muslim world where the architecture of Philippine foreign policy and the conduct of foreign relation were often overwhelmed by “politics” and thus could take different route and form affecting such issue like the Palestine Question. 

To be precise, one simply needs to take a “longue duree” view of Philippine relation with the Muslim world since 1946 until recently. The starting point of relation in 1946 was defined with idealism like the Philippines’ strong identification with the cause of the Third World; it reached its peak in the 1970s with the adoption of what Sen. Mamintal Tamano referred to as President Marcos’ “Islamic diplomacy” in the Arab world followed in subsequent years with sustaining a rather passive plateau of relations from President Corazon Aquino onward that is often characterized with what is considered as 3 Os of Philippine foreign policy; namely: Oil, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Overseas Filipino Workers. This is, in brief, the general caricature of Philippine foreign relation with the Muslim world. The place of Palestine Question in such relation is, as mentioned, historically dramatic but radically undermined by geopolitics and changing mood of foreign polices – the reason it hardly blips in the radar screen of Philippine foreign relation.

The question now: what is next? 

Following our thread of thoughts and despite our optimism, we could not help but express dismay. The two major factors that underpinned the Palestine Question remain. 

In fact, a third and exceedingly crucial factor has emerged: the rise of Israel not only as State but as an ideological power driven by International Zionism. Today, Israel is increasingly becoming a regional hegemon in the Middle East while projecting with a semi-superpower status and imposing its weights in many countries the Philippines included. This is the main hurdle in Philippine-Palestine relation. Other points of discussion maybe important but are exceedingly constraints with what a scholar said about the millenarian rise of “Pax Judaica” – not only in Palestine and the Arab world but elsewhere.  Any attempt to work on something positive on the issue of Palestine and Philippine relation as demanded with the question – what is next? – must inevitably reckon with these three factors.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines]. 

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