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Dookeran must raise foreign affairs profile

It may well be that most Trinidad and Tobago citizens preferred this country not to be among the minority of nations voting at the United Nations against upgraded recognition of Palestine. That minority included the USA and Canada, countries with which T&T enjoys close ties. But this country's vote counted among those of more than two-thirds of the UN in favour of a resolution designating Palestine a non-member, observer state.

Sending such a signal about a Palestine, long reduced to a subjugated position, has long been compelling on moral and political grounds. The vote of T&T was cast the right way, that is, in keeping with majority sentiment in the country, if only to judge from the lack of dissenting expression on the question.

For it should not be assumed that people in this country, widely exposed to international news, lack knowledge of or interest in world events. Nor should it be supposed that T&T's international posture counts as negligible; this country is a considerable player within Caricom and apparently enjoys generally favourable regard in Latin America and the Caribbean.

All of which appears to justify raising the profile of international questions on the agenda of T&T's public affairs. The Palestine UN question decided last month was never raised at any level in T&T—not by the Government and not in Parliament. Such views as are held on the matter, at any level, remain a subject of conjecture. International affairs are almost never a subject for Parliamentary debate, nor even for the tabling of position papers. This has implications for public and Parliamentary oversight of the performance of the Foreign Affairs portfolio, now held by senior legislator and political figure, Winston Dookeran.

Also escaping oversight is the performance of T&T missions and representatives abroad. Only by accident, or through criticisms by foreign-based nationals, is some reporting delivered on what is being done and said, to good effect or ill, in the name of T&T. That Caricom members, The Bahamas and Barbados, abstained on the UN resolution reflects a lack of harmony among Caribbean neighbours. Again, no information is forthcoming to appraise T&T's diplomatic efforts, if any, to the end of promoting solidarity within the regional bloc.

Israel has retaliated, or threatened to do so, against the UN vote. Will T&T and Caricom partners join those around the world condemning the creation of new Israeli settlements? This proposed move could only work to the detriment of the territorial integrity of a Palestinian state. Building more Israeli settlements, on land to which Palestinians feel justifiably entitled, no doubt undermines prospective moves toward sustainable peace in that region.

Mr Dookeran last heard from deploring the impact on the T&T image abroad of the Wayne Kublalsingh fast, owes it to T&T to address Parliament more fully on this and other, still-burning, questions.

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