Jerusalem embassy lasts just 16 weeks
FEW COUNTRIES have moved their embassies twice in the space of three months, but Paraguay has done just that, transferring its embassy in Israel back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
Luis Castiglioni , the country’s relatively new foreign minister, explained that his country wished to contribute to “the intensification of regional and international diplomatic efforts [in the Middle East] with the aim of achieving a broad, just and lasting peace.” The status of Jerusalem was “one of the most complex components of the Middle East conflict” which had to be “tackled by the parties involved through negotiations”, he added.
But while Mr Castiglioni said his country wanted “excellent relations” with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he prompted a furious response: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Paraguay’s move had cast a shadow on the links between them and announced Israel would close its own embassy in Paraguay. In stark contrast, the Palestinian Authority declared it would immediately open its own Embassy in Asunción in an act of “gratitude for the Paraguayan decision.”
The original decision to transfer Paraguay’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was taken by outgoing president Horacio Cartes on May 9, just days after the United States moved its own mission there.
Mr Netanyahu and Mr Cartes both attended the inauguration of the Paraguayan Embassy in Jerusalem’s Malha Technology Park on May 21. Paraguay’s move came five days after Guatemala agreed a similar relocation. At the ceremony, Mr Netanyahu told Mr Cartes: “Paraguay supported the creation of the State of Israel in the United Nations. We will never forget that. Paraguay took a very bold stance in international affairs and refused to cooperate with the lies directed against Israel.”
In remarks that in retrospect foreshadowed tougher times, he added: “We remember our friends. We have no better friends than you.” But Mario Abdo Benítez, Paraguay’s new president sworn in last month, openly opposed the move, which was decided while he was president-elect. The Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, had been pushing him to reverse it ever since.
Mr al-Maliki praised the decision to transfer the embassy back to Tel Aviv, saying that it was “in accordance with international law and Security Council decisions. It’s a breakthrough for Palestinian diplomacy vis-à-vis the international community.”
The Trump administration is pushing Paraguay for a rethink. A statement by the White House on Thursday of last week said that it had “strongly encouraged” Mr Benítez to maintain Paraguay’s previous commitment to its Embassy to Jerusalem “as a sign of the historic relationship the country has maintained with both Israel and the United States.”
But the policy shift in policy reflects divisions in Paraguayan domestic politics as much as it does differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Benítez is a right-wing former senator and belongs to the same Colorado Party as Mr Cartes, but the two have fallen out over the new president’s failure to support his predecessor’s efforts to take an elected seat in the Senate. That move that would have given Mr Cartes greater influence and possible immunity from prosecution.
President Mario Abdo Benítez