Next month, the presidents of three of the island states that are considered strong supporters of Israel – Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Nauru, will be coming to Israel for an official visit. They will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and, perhaps, also with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and will be paid royal honors.
Israeli officials ascribe great importance to the support of these Pacific islands, mainly because it can be transferred easily from one side to another. A year ago, Iran signed a memorandum with the Solomon Islands stating that it would fund scholarships in the amount of $200,000 for students living there to study medicine in Cuba. The payment was not long in coming: The Solomon Islands voted in the United Nations (U.N.) for adopting the conclusions of the Goldstone Report, which blasted Israel for its counterattack in Gaza last year.
The vote surprised Israel because the Solomon Islands were considered a strong ally.
“This is part of a long-term effort to preserve and nurture relations with countries with which we would like to keep in contact,” explained Michael Ronen, the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Pacific desk. Mr. Ronen, who also serves as the ambassador to these islands, emphasized that Israel does not intend to offer money, as Iran did. “I will defeat the Iranians on my court by offering humanitarian and medical assistance, which Israel has made sure to give these islands throughout the years, without promising money or making my assistance conditional upon political support, as the Iranians have done,” he said.
The Pacific Ocean region has sixteen countries, including Australia and New Zealand. All the rest are tiny countries. Since size does not matter, the votes of 13 of these countries matter in votes that take place in the U.N. Tiny Micronesia’s vote is equal to that of enormous China.
Israel was among the first of the countries outside the Pacific region to recognize the independence of the island nations in the 1980s and formed diplomatic relations with them. Since then, Israel has worked a great deal in those countries, sending them medical equipment, vaccines, medicines and medical specialists. Thus, for example, an Israeli ear, nose and throat specialist has been in Nauru for the past three weeks at the request of the Nauruan government. Equipment worth $130,000 was sent to Samoa as assistance in coping with the damage from the latest tsunami. Israel also assisted the Solomon Islands, despite its vote in favor of the Goldstone Report, and continued to send it medical equipment in order to help it cope with diabetes, which is widespread there. The result of this ongoing assistance has been that in the U.N. votes, these countries have supported Israel or abstained from voting against it.
However, in recent years, countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba have tried to change this situation by means of money, and Israel is trying to stop this from happening.
“Israel extends its hand to all countries, great and small,” Mr. Ronen said. “In the Pacific region, we have found tiny and far-flung states that know a great deal more about us than we know about them, and that have shown us extraordinary friendship. In the U.N., there is an almost absolute majority against Israel and, therefore, we are making every effort to keep them with us.”
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org