The Gaza War and US-Caribbean Relations

cc Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, modified,

Just over six months into the Gaza war, Washington’s foreign policy stance on the conflict has placed it at odds with the 14 mostly Anglophone sovereign small states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

This is apparent in a rising chorus of contrarian views in CARICOM member states’ Gaza war-related diplomatic narratives in the United Nations (UN), as compared to the United States’ associated positioning, setting the tone for the daylight between these states and Washington.

Initially, CARICOM adopted a position that was generally more restrained in tone. This was the context in which the bloc began to spend political capital on lending its voice to an already incendiary situation, striving for balance.

This behaviour on the international stage is consistent with the view of international relations scholars that, in international politics, smaller states inter alia “might seek [status-related] recognition by great powers, as useful allies, impartial arbiters, or contributors to systems maintenance” (emphasis added). Yet, in full view of Gazans’ disturbing reality and a region roiled by a metastasizing Gaza war, this type of diplomacy has its limits.

Several months later, in a Statement on the Ongoing Situation in Gaza, CARICOM leaders underscored that they are “deeply distressed” by the ‘deteriorating’ state of affairs in Gaza.” (In line with K. J. Holsti, who calls attention to the signal importance of such foreign policy actors in foreign policy decision-making, it is apt to unpack their pronouncements on the matter at hand.) While they reaffirmed their condemnation of Hamas’ October 7, 2023 assault on Israel and resultant hostage-taking, they pilloried subsequent “Israeli actions that violate international humanitarian law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.”

It is instructive that while US President Joe Biden eventually described Israel’s conduct of its war against Hamas in Gaza as “over the top,” this did not change Washington’s policy course in respect of support for Israel. Along the way, the U.S. repeatedly scuttled UN-related attempts to call for a ceasefire, tying the UN’s hands. This amid Israel’s apparent refutation of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in a context where UN-Israel relations have seemingly “reached an all-time low.”

In stark contrast, CARICOM leaders doubled down on unequivocally calling for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Gaza and safe and unimpeded access for the delivery of adequate and sustained humanitarian assistance.” That said, Jamaica’s Gaza war-related voting record in the UN General Assembly and public pronouncements have caused some consternation among commentators; and Prime Minister Andrew Holness had to set the record straight.

CARICOM leaders also contended that, for the regional grouping, Israel’s excesses in the occupied West Bank contribute to international instability. They tied their criticism of Israel’s wanton disregard of calls from within UN bodies for a ceasefire to the provisional measures-related order in the South Africa v. Israel case at the International Court of Justice.

And they did not pull punches when advocating for a two-state solution in keeping with UNSC Resolution 242.

The bloc continues to raise the alarm over this conflict in the Middle East, citing concerns regarding the wider implications for “regional stability and international peace.”

The normative character of CARICOM’s foreign policy approach is apparent in its Gaza war-related diplomatic trajectory, which is also illustrative of a cumulative tension vis-à-vis the United States’ imprint on the said conflict. This is because the United States’ foreign policy intentions qua state behaviour, in the Middle East and elsewhere, hinge on power.

For its part, Guyana has signalled its impatience with Washington’s Israel policy which, for some scholars, centres on a “special relationship”— one that purportedly plays an outsized role in “the totality of American foreign policy in the Middle East.”

Notably, Guyana abstained from a recent, widely criticized US-led draft resolution in the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC). Guyana was elected in 2023 to join this UN body, for a two-year term (2024-2025), as a non-permanent member. That measure set a low bar. It just made the case for the imperative of an ‘immediate and sustained ceasefire’ in Gaza, compelling Guyana to underscore that the resolution stopped short of aligning with the international community’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Russia and China, two of the UNSC’s five permanent members, voted against the draft resolution. It failed to pass, given the strictures of the UNSC voting system.

Guyana was among the 14 UNSC members which, shortly thereafter, backed another resolution. On this occasion, there was a clarion call qua demand for ‘an immediate ceasefire’ during Ramadan in 2024. The Security Council passed the resolution, with the U.S. conspicuously exercising an abstention regarding the vote-related proceedings.

This only served to further highlight Washington’s growing international isolation regarding foreign policymaking in the face of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict which, for months now having passed into uncharted waters, has been centre stage in international politics—eclipsing even the Ukraine war.

That the United States is haemorrhaging prestige in the Caribbean has not ceased either. This has ruffled feathers there in this geopolitical moment, putting the most significant strain on US-CARICOM relations since their post-Trump era revamp. No sooner had these relations benefitted from a reset under the Biden administration than have the last few months marked a stress point in those ties, which must be gauged anyway by their historically “mixed success.”

One source of things changing is that as postcolonial states, which are products of the struggle for political independence, CARICOM member states increasingly view the Gaza war through a normative qua ethical prism. In turn, it is a mirror onto their own quest for autonomy and unwavering belief in self-determination. (The fact is that these states’ postcolonial identities anchor their worldview, which is shaped inter alia by legacies of colonialism and the plight of those peoples who are still oppressed.)

Today, countries like Guyana turn to UN bodies like the UNSC to shore up diplomatic positioning in that regard.

In this thinking, all such peoples have a right to self-determination among the community of nations.

Washington’s decidedly skewed Gaza war-related foreign policymaking challenges such postcolonial conceptions anew, having a bearing on these states’ perceptions of their own status in the international system.

This a watershed moment, then, in the sense that coming into focus for CARICOM—indeed, shaping its view of Washington—is how the U.S. will earnestly respond to the international community’s outcry about the devastation wrought by six-plus months of war in Gaza and the ever worsening plight of its peoples.

Reports are Washington has put Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on notice that unless his government changes its war strategy, which has stoked the humanitarian crisis in that enclave, it might have to reassess facets of its Israel policy.

Just recently, though, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a legislative package that provides tens of billions of dollars in security assistance—among others—to Israel. The Senate has since passed the bill. And Iran’s recent direct airborne attack on Israel only galvanized US support for the latter, with this great-power rallying to Israel’s defence.

The question is whether such support emboldens Netanyahu to toe the maximalist line of far-right elements in his government by continuing to wage Israel’s war on Gaza—which, according to some analysts, possibly constitutes a never-ending war with ulterior motives. That Netanyahu now openly scoffs at international pressure for a Palestinian state says it all. This against a backdrop where, even if Netanyahu’s days in government are numbered, “his approach to the war [qua ‘use of force’ per defence establishment thinking on Israel’s National Security Doctrine] has broader support.”

The prevailing cosmopolitan view, which stands in opposition to the Netanyahu government’s position on the matter, is for a two-state solution to come to pass—as the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a further sign of the (geopolitical) times, though, the UNSC failed to recommend full UN membership for the State of Palestine, owing to the United States’ casting a veto regarding the draft resolution in question.

Guyana was among the 12 UNSC members which voted in favour of the draft resolution, which reads:

“The Security Council, having examined the application of the State of Palestine for admission to the United Nations (S/2011/592), recommends to the General Assembly that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership in the United Nations.”

This draft resolution will go down in the annals of UN-anchored multilateral diplomacy as having produced an important moment for a show of support for Palestine, in what is perhaps Gaza’s darkest hour. It faces unprecedented, horrific destruction.

With the international spotlight on the diplomatic moment personified by the aforesaid UNSC vote, on April 19, 2024, Barbados announced its official recognition of Palestine as a State. Considering its timing, this move is likely intended (at least in part) as a rebuke of the United States’ reasoning behind its vote-related stand.

A few days later, the Government of Jamaica indicated that it took the decision to recognize the State of Palestine. In shedding light on this decision, Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, called attention to Jamaica’s support for a two-state solution. Minister Johnson Smith said that this is the “only viable option to resolve the longstanding conflict, guarantee the security of Israel and uphold the dignity and rights of Palestinians.” Furthermore, she underscored: “By recognizing the State of Palestine, Jamaica strengthens its advocacy towards a peaceful solution.”

Minister Johnson Smith noted that her country’s decision to recognize the State of Palestine is in keeping with its “strong commitment to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which seek to engender mutual respect and peaceful co-existence among states, as well as the recognition of the right of peoples to self- determination.” She also linked the decision to the Gaza war and the resultant humanitarian crisis, reaffirming inter alia Jamaica’s backing of an immediate ceasefire.

Barbados and Jamaica have cast their lot with the 10 other CARICOM member states which have recognized the State of Palestine. They are St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Haiti, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Belize, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Guyana.

Behind the scenes, CARICOM leaders and diplomats have likely (and in no uncertain terms) voiced their misgivings to their American counterparts as regards Washington’s approach to treating escalating tensions in the Middle East. The matter of the groundswell of support in CARICOM for an independent Palestinian State and for it to be afforded all attendant rights have surely come up, too, especially at a time when more countries are prioritizing recognition of that state.

Insofar as it is “embroiled in [the] Gaza conflict,” Washington is regularly in touch with Caribbean capitals. In an attempt to drum up support for what some analysts view as its one-dimensional determinism in foreign policymaking, Washington makes the rounds of these capitals.

This as the influence of the People’s Republic of China—which, along with Russia, is the United States’ strategic competitorgrows in the Caribbean.

To varying degrees—with a healthy respect for long-standing, country-level ties and the record of accomplishment—respective emissaries carry on with the daily business of diplomacy. Having regard to the deep “security and economic ties” between the U.S. and CARICOM, it is also the case that the latter grouping would not lose sight of the importance of the long game in its member states’ respective foreign policy approaches to America.

Still, attuned to their postcolonial identities, CARICOM member states are guarded in this moment. After all, their foreign policy inclination is to embrace “human and global interest.”

Such conviction is side stepped by others—if not rhetorically, then in praxis. For them, the competitive nature of the putative zero-sum international system is such that their own security is the overriding concern.

As CARICOM member states take stock of their contribution to the international community’s contemporary diplomatic manoeuvres on the question of Palestine, they are of the mind that they stand on the right side of history.

Yet for all their attention to the normative grounds for defusing the powder keg that is today’s Middle East, leaning in on the case for approaching the national interest in the same vein, CARICOM members run up against the broader context of their foreign policymaking. Simply put, à la the system-level, international relations are “geopolitically constructed.” This framing is the proximate cause of the Gaza war; but, it is not the only factor that one ought to assess. As already intimated, domestic and “unit-level factors” in foreign policymaking also play a consequential role in the grand scheme of things.

In this schema, it is highly debatable whether the top dogs seriously weigh moral ends.

In standing on principle, strengthening its status-related hand in international politics, CARICOM has notched another victory in the thrust-and-parry of the anarchic global system.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author(s) alone and do not necessarily reflect those of

Back to Top


Lost your password?