Monday, October 10, 2011

Colombia and the Middle East

Colombia loves Israel? Someone changed a 'does not equal' sign into a heart
in this graffiti in La Candelaria. 
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in Colombia right now seeking Bogotá's support for an independent Palestinian state. And he's got his work cut out for him because of Colombia's close relationships with both Israel and the United States, both of which say they support an independent Palestine - but just not yet. Colombia has taken a similar position.

Mahmoud Abbas: he's got
work to do in Colombia.
Colombia and Israel have historically had a close - but also troubled and sometimes murky - relationship, rooted in their common problems with terrorism. Colombia has purchased lots of weapons from Israel, including fighter planes and some of the rifles toted by soldiers guarding government buildings in La Candelaria. Israel also sent Colombia aid after last year's devastating floods and has provided military advisors.

But the relationship has also had a very dark side. Israeli military veterans, working privately, reportedly have trained Colombian paramilitaries, who have committed some of the worst atrocities the country's long armed conflict. (Other instructors came from the U.S., Britain and Australia.) One of Colombia's most notorious paramilitary leaders, Carlos Castaño, took courses in paramilitary and counterinsurgency tactics in Israel, and later said "I copied the concept of paramilitary forces from the Israelis." And Yair Klein, an Israeli former lieutenant colonel who later established a private mercenary training company, trained Colombian paramilitaries. A Colombian court tried Klein in absentia and sentenced him to 11 years in prison for training terrorists, but Colombia's efforts to extradite Klein have failed. Klein has said that he worked in Colombia with the Colombian government's consent. While that may very well be true, it can't justify aiding an organization whose crimes have rivaled in depravity, if not in scale, to the Nazis'.

Some left-wing critics have made parallels between the geopolitical situations of Israel and Colombia, both of which are close U.S. allies surrounded by ideologically hostile neighbors. But that is where the parallels end. The two nations' histories, dynamics and issues are fundamentally different. On the positive side, both nations are democracies, albeit imperfect ones.

This blogger believes that the Palestinians, like the Kurds, Basques, Tibetians and many other peoples dearly deserve their own independent nations. But the terrorism used in favor of some of these peoples' causes have hurt their chances. The Palestinians should recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce terrorism. Israel should stop building settlements in Palestinian territory, abandon lots of those settlements, and give the Palestinians part of Jerusalem to use as their capital. Jerusalem could become some sort of international city, perhaps administered by the United Nations.

That's my two cents, in case anybody's listening.

Abbas got a warm reception and support in Bogotá's city hall - which wasn't surprising, since it's ruled by the leftist Polo Democratico Party. But Abbas will have a tougher time with Pres. Santos, who's been lobbied by the Israeli government to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

Here's a blog entry about the Israeli and Palestinian demonstrations on Plaza Bolivar.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: