Israel’s Islands – Compact of Free Association

Every year, the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution entitled ‘Peaceful resolution of the Palestine conflict.’ Every year, the vote is the same. The whole world on one side – and on the other side, the United States, Israel, and usually Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

– Norman Finkelstein

22 December 2017 – A resolution backed overwhelmingly by the United Nations has effectively called on the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Part of the document reads: “…any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the [UN] Security Council”. The resolution “calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem”.

The nine countries that voted against the resolution were: Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States.

29 November 2012 – United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19 is a resolution upgrading Palestine to non-member observer state status in the United Nations. It was adopted by the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly – the date of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the 65th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution 181(II) on the Future Government of Palestine.

The nine countries that voted against the resolution were: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel,  Marshall Islands, MicronesiaNauru, Palau, Panama, United States.

Most of the countries that voted with the US are members of the Compact of Free Association (COFA), says Daniel Kliman, a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, “which would explain their votes”.

COFA is a deal struck between the US and several South Pacific islands, including Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. It was signed into US law in 1986.

Under the agreement, the islands get US economic help, defence guarantees and a few other benefits.

In return, the US gets military operating rights in those countries, Mr Kliman says.

Micronesia, formally known as the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), has a history of voting alongside Israel.

In 2009, then-president Manny Mori said: “Owing in part to its Judeo-Christian tradition, the FSM Government has been an ardent supporter of the State of Israel at the United Nations and other international organizations, particularly on the annual resolutions that are critical of Israel. The FSM’s almost unparallel voting record at the UN has been a central feature of its foreign policy.”

The Compact of Free Association (COFA) is an international agreement establishing and governing the relationships of free association between the United States and the three Pacific Island nations that, together with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, formerly composed the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. The Trust Territory was a United Nations trusteeship administered by the United States Navy from 1947 to 1951 and by the Department of the Interior from 1951 to 1986 (to 1994 for Palau).

The compact came into being as an extension of the U.S.–U.N. territorial trusteeship agreement, which obliged the federal government of the United States “to promote the development of the people of the Trust Territory toward self-government or independence as appropriate to the particular circumstances of the Trust Territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned”. Under the compact, the U.S. federal government provides guaranteed financial assistance over a 15-year period administered through its Office of Insular Affairs in exchange for full international defense authority and responsibilities.

The Compact of Free Association was initialed by negotiators in 1980 and signed by the parties in the years 1982-1983. It was approved by the citizens of the Pacific states in plebiscites held in 1983. Legislation on the Compact was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1986 and signed into law on November 13, 1986.

Economic provisions

Each of the associated states actively participate in all Office of Insular Affairs technical assistance activities. The U.S. treats these countries uniquely by giving them access to many U.S. domestic programs, including disaster response and recovery and hazard mitigation programs under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and services provided by the National Weather Service, the United States Postal Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and U.S. representation to the International Frequency Registration Board of the International Telecommunication Union. The Compact area, while outside the customs area of the United States, is mainly duty-free for imports.

Most citizens of the associated states may live and work in the United States, and most U.S. citizens and their spouses may live and work in the associated states. In 1996, the U.S. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act removed Medicaid benefits for resident foreigners from the states, even after the five-year waiting period that most other resident aliens have.

Military provisions

The COFA allows the United States to operate armed forces in Compact areas, to demand land for operating bases (subject to negotiation), and excludes the militaries of other countries without U.S. permission. The U.S. in turn becomes responsible for protecting its affiliate countries and responsible for administering all international defense treaties and affairs, though it may not declare war on their behalf. It is not allowed to use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in Palau territory. In the territories of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia it is not allowed to store such weapons except in times of national emergency, state of war, or when necessary to defend against an actual or impending attack on the U.S., the Marshall Islands, or the Federated States of Micronesia.

Citizens of the associated states may serve in America’s armed forces, commentators have noted that the ongoing presence and recruitment efforts of the U.S. military in the Compact areas may have resulted in the high level of military enlistment by Compact citizens. For example, in 2008, the Federated States of Micronesia had a higher per-capita enlistment rate than any U.S. state, and had more than five times the national per-capita average of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan (9 soldiers out of a population of 107,000).

2003 renewal

In 2003, the Compacts with the RMI and FSM were renewed for 20 years. These new Compacts provided US$3.5 billion in funding for both countries. US$30 million will also be disbursed annually among American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, and the Northern Mariana Islands in “Compact Impact” funding. This funding helps the governments of these localities cope with the expense of providing services to immigrants from the RMI, FSM, and Palau. The U.S. usage of Kwajalein Atoll for missile testing was renewed for the same period. The new Compacts also changed certain immigration rules. RMI and FSM citizens traveling to the U.S. are now required to have passports. The U.S. Postal Service was given the option to apply international postage rates for mail between the U.S. and RMI/FSM (phased in over five years). The USPS began implementing the change in January 2006, but decided to resume domestic services and rates in November 2007.

The renewed Compact (commonly called “Compact II”) for FSM took effect on June 25, 2004, and for RMI on June 30, 2004.

The economic provisions of the Compact for Palau which provided $18 million in annual subsidies and grants, expired on September 30, 2009, and the renewal talk was concluded in late 2010. U.S. financial support for Palau is based on a continuing resolution passed by the U.S. Congress. The Compact Trust Fund set up to replace U.S. financial aid underperformed because of the Great Recession. The military and civil defense provisions will remain until 2015.

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