Saturday, 8 December 2012

Independent Nation or US Colony? The Island State of Palau

By Richard Edmondson

Those who followed the UN General Assembly votes on Palestine will likely have noticed that Palau, along with several other island states—Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru—have voted, almost without exception, on the side of Israel and the US. With regard to the most recent vote, calling upon Israel to allow nuclear inspectors into the country, one of the island states, Nauru, broke ranks and voted with the majority of the world’s nations. But Palau and the others remained as steadfast as ever in their loyalty to Washington and Tel Aviv.

Located in the western Pacific just east of the Philippines, Palau has a population of approximately 21,000, less than ten of whom are Jews. Note: that’s not ten percent. That’s: ten. Period. There are under ten Jews living in the entire country. Nevertheless, one of them managed to get himself appointed to the Palau Supreme Court. Sounds a bit like the United States, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a very good reason for that. Palau, in a very real sense, was created in America’s image, and the government in place pays a great deal of homage to its Creator.

The Republic of Palau came into being as a result of a “Compact of Free Association” signed in 1986 and ratified by the population in 1994. The agreement gives the US “full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to Palau,” with the people of the islands being afforded a sort of sovereignty basically in name only. Here are a few provisions from the Compact:

Section 312: The Government of the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to Palau. Subject to the terms of any agreements negotiated pursuant to Article II of this Title, the Government of the United States may conduct within the lands, water and airspace of Palau the activities and operations necessary for the exercise of its authority and responsibility under this Title. The Government of the United States may invite the armed forces of other nations to use the military areas and facilities in Palau in conjunction with and under the control of United States Armed Forces.

Section 313: The Government of Palau shall refrain from actions which the Government of the United States determines, after consultation with that Government, to be incompatible with its authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to Palau.

Section 321: The Government of the United States may establish and use defense sites in Palau, and may designate for this purpose land and water areas and improvements in accordance with the provisions of a separate agreement which shall come into force simultaneously with this Compact.

Section 322: When the Government of the United States desires to establish or use such a defense site specifically identified in the separate agreement referred to in Section 321, it shall so inform the Government of Palau which shall make the designated site available to the Government of the United States for the duration and level of use specified.

All of the above come from the “Title III” section of the Compact. The entire, completed document was signed on January 10, 1986. Signing for the US was Fred M. Zeder II and for the Republic of Palau Lazarus E. Salii. Zeder was a former Chrysler engineer who later became head of the US Government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation under the Bush I administration. Salii was president of Palau, but he died under mysterious circumstances some two years later, on August 20, 1988. According to the New York Times:

Mr. Salii, 54 years old, was the second president of this western Pacific island chain to meet violent death in three years. He was elected in August 1985 to succeed President Haruo Remeliik, the first elected president of the republic, who was shot to death at his home on June 30, 1985. Three men were convicted of murdering Mr. Remeliik but were acquitted last year on appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau.

Mr. Salii was shot once in the head in the living room of his home in the capital city of Koror, said Police Officer Theodore Obak.

A .357-caliber Magnum revolver and a spent bullet were found, said Bonifacio Basilius, a Presidential spokesman. Asked whether Mr. Salii's death was a homicide or suicide, Mr. Basilius said, ''We're not ruling out anything.'' He also declined to say whether the President had been depressed in recent weeks.

Mr. Basilius said the country was calm.

Mr. Salii was alone in the house at 1P.M., the time of the shooting, while his wife, a driver and a maid ate lunch outside, Mr. Basilius said.

The three people outside heard a noise and about 20 minutes later, Mrs. Salii went inside and found her husband sitting at his chair with a gunshot wound through the head, Mr. Basilius said. No other wounds were found, he said.

Palau became an official member of the United Nations on December 15, 1994, and its support for Israel has been virtually unwavering ever since. This is remarked upon in an article published earlier this week at Jewish Ideas Daily, which discusses a trip made by Israeli students to Palau some years ago, reportedly undertaken out of curiosity:

In January, 2005 a group of students from Yeshiva University High School, organized by then-high school senior Avram Sand, was appreciative enough of Palau’s foursquare support of Israel, and curious enough about the motives for its support, to pay a courtesy visit to the island to check it out.  They visited with Palauan students at their schools, met with government officials, and kept a most unusual Shabbat—which, on account of halakhic vicissitudes surrounding the International Date Line, was observed on Sunday.  "We represented a segment of the Jewish community that was grateful for the support that Palau provides Israel on a regular basis." said Sand.  "I was very interested in why these places halfway around the world had any interest in Israel whatsoever."

One of the events the students attended was a 20-minute meeting with the president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau Jr.  The students thanked him for hosting them and expressed their gratitude for Palau's firm support of Israel in the UN…

It was reported that the students made quite an impression on their Palauan hosts.  Soon after they left, a Palauan high school student named Maungil Leoncio wrote an e-mail to the Forward saying, "They're the first Jewish people I met.  At first I was judging them by their cover but when I started talking to them, I started to like them a lot.  Their presentation was one of the coolest we've had."

The writer of the article, Moshe Sokolow, also addresses the threat Palau faces from climate change and rising sea levels—“With the havoc wreaked by Sandy still so fresh in our minds, we should be particularly aware that our interests and the Palauans’ coincide. To help them is to help ourselves—and vice versa—in more ways than one.”—as well as what might account for Palau’s unequivocal support for Israel. Sokolow speculates that a “rather singular broad-mindedness” might be one explanation for it, and goes on to add:

Nothing in its national profile would mark Palau as an obvious backer of the Jewish state.  Nearly 75 percent of its people are Christian, mostly Roman Catholic; an additional 10 percent follow Modekngei, a hybrid of Christianity and the ancient Palauan religion.  The island’s economic mainstay, apart from subsistence farming and fishing, is tourism; but, in spite of its tropical climate and its world renown as a diving destination, it has never been a port of call for Jewish midwinter cruises or Passover vacations.

Perhaps Palau’s unusually high literacy rate of 92 percent contributes to its open-mindedness?  Perhaps its geographical isolation frees it from restrictive diplomatic alliances or affiliations?  Perhaps its legacy of American largesse inclines it to a more Western and liberal political stance?  Perhaps, like other Asian cultures, it shares an affinity for millennia-old traditions?

Or perhaps it is reciprocal?  After Palau formally declared its independence in 1994, Israel hastened to afford the new country its first non-Pacific diplomatic recognition.

In any event, says Sokolow, the Palauans “have exercised their vote on behalf of Israel’s interests without fail—and without obvious recompense. In a word, they have acted altruistically, as genuine friends.”

But it is not entirely accurate to say that Palau has acted “without obvious recompense.” If we go back to the Compact, we find that it provides for funding from the US to the tune of millions of dollars—to be provided on an ongoing basis, or at any rate over a period of numerous years from the ratification of the Compact. This includes:

$12 million annually for ten years commencing on the effective date of this Compact, and $11 million annually for five years commencing on the tenth anniversary of the effective date of this Compact, for current account operations and maintenance purposes…

There is also $2 million annually for achieving increased self-sufficiency in energy production; an initial $1.5 million plus an additional $150,000 annually for a communications system; well as $631,000 annually to cover maritime zone enforcement, health and medical programs, and scholarships for Palauan students attending schools in the US; and an initial $66 million, plus $4 million annually, to create an investment fund, to be used by the government of Palau to invest in US bonds. In addition, the US agrees to build the country a road system, and also to provide services from a number of US agencies, including the US Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and the Civil Aeronautics Board.

The Compact also includes tariff provisions pertaining to items exported to the US from Palau, and it is here we find a tie-in to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands:

Only canned tuna provided for in item 112.30 of the Tariff Schedules of the United States that is imported from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau during any calendar year not to exceed 10 percent of the United Stattes consumption of canned tunal during the immediately preceding calendar year, as reported by the National Marine Fisheries Service, shall be exempt from duty; but the quantity of tuna given duty free treatment under this paragraph for any calendar year shall be counted against the aggregate quantity of canned tuna that is dutiable under rate column numbered 1 of such item 112.30 for that calendar year.

The Jewish Virtual Library has an article on Palau which informs us that “anti-Semitism is non-existent” there, but with less than 10 Jews in the entire country, this would perhaps stand to reason. Apparently, however, one of the 10 Jews, fittingly enough, is Palau’s ambassador to the UN, Stuart Beck. Beck is actually an American lawyer, who, according to Wikipedia, only holds “honorary citizenship” in Palau. The aforementioned Palauan Supreme Court Justice is Larry Miller—also, like Beck, a Jewish American. Miller retired in 2007, reportedly to “return to the United States to be closer to his family,” but was replaced by—are you ready for this?—another American, Russell Marsh. Marsh is a former US Attorney from Las Vegas, and he apparently is not Jewish himself, but in Marsh we find yet another tie-in to Micronesia:

The new Associate Justice is not a stranger to the Pacific region. Previously, Marsh served as Chief f Litigation for Yap from 1991 to 1992 and again in 1995.

The island of Yap is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Marsh was appointed to the Supreme Court by Palauan President Tommy Remengesau Jr., who received the delegation of Israeli students in 2005 and who served from 2001 to 2009, but was elected to a third four-year term as president just last month. Remengesau’s reasoning for appointing Americans to serve on his country’s Supreme Court? Well, it goes something as follows:

Some members of the public expressed concern that the new justice is not a native Palauan.  In response to those concerns, President Remengesau stated that while a judiciary comprised of all Palauans may be practical in the future, it was in Palau’s best interest to appoint an American whose work was not hampered by conflict of interests, noting the small population of Palau, the relative closeness that Palauans have to each other and the fact that many conflicts of interests have arisen in the past requiring the appointment of off-island part time justices to hear cases.

Palau’s vote against requiring Israel to open up its nuclear facilities to inspections is especially ironic in that the island state voted for the world’s first nuclear-free constitution. This was in 1981, prior to the drafting of the Compact that placed the country under America’s subjugation. According to Wikipedia:

This [nuclear-free] constitution banned the use, storage, and disposal of nuclear, toxic chemical, gas, and biological weapons without first being approved by a 3/4 majority in a referendum.[17] This ban held up Palau's transition to independence because while negotiating a Compact of Free Association with the United States, the U.S. insisted on the option to operate nuclear propelled vessels and store nuclear weapons within the territory.[18] After several referendums that failed to achieve a 3/4 majority, the people of Palau finally approved the Compact with the U.S. in 1994.

Palau’s currency is the US dollar.

H/T to msa

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