Vanuatu to remain ‘neutral’ on Jerusalem

i24 News reports, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, leader of the Pacific island state of Vanuatu, visited Jerusalem this week where he held a working meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Reports from i24 News say Netanyahu welcomed Salwai on his visit to Israel and said that “despite the great distance between the two countries Israel and Vanuatu are close friends that cooperate in water, agriculture and technology.”

“The two prime ministers agreed to continue strengthening bilateral cooperation in various fields,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

In December, Vanuatu abstained in a General Assembly vote condemning the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Other Pacific island states voted against the resolution, alongside Israel and the US.

In an interview with i24NEWS, Salwai explained his country’s reason for not voting “no”.

“It is better to have a neutral position at this time. That is what our country has adopted up to now. And we need to assess more not only our relations with Israel but also with other countries in the Middle East,”

i24NEWS reports, If Israel is looking for that UN vote to change, Prime Minister Salwai made no commitment.

By Prime Minister Salwai’s own admission, his country’s official position on Jerusalem is not clear.

Some Israeli media reported that Vanuatu recognized a Jerusalem capital last year. The reality is more ambiguous.

“It’s an issue that we are considering very seriously, and a decision may be given soon by our people. Otherwise, our people, as Christian people in my country, as a Christian country, recognize Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel.”

Prime Minister Salwai promises an official decision in the near future.

“Submissions have gone to my cabinet, and we will soon discuss, maybe in a few weeks’ time, the issue of declaration of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.”

Prime Minister Salwai did not rule out recognizing an Israeli capital in all of Jerusalem. If Vanuatu does that, it will be the first in the world.

Whatever the decision, Salwai says he would not accept a trade of additional Israeli aid in exchange for a UN vote. Israel already helps Vanuatu in water tech and agriculture. And adapting to climate change, to which Vanuatu is vulnerable.

“Vanuatu is a sovereign country, is an independent country. It has to come up with its own position. It must be clear: It must not come up with a position by condition. So I think we reached this understanding, too. That the relationship that we have with Israel should not be conditioned on the position of Vanuatu.”