Cheering Jerusalem reversal, Palestinians say they will open Paraguay embassy

Abbas praises Asunción’s decision to return mission to Tel Aviv; South American country says Israel should not be annoyed by about-face

Demonstrators shout slogans against Israel's military strikes on the Gaza Strip during a protest in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, January 9, 2009. (AP/Rene Gonzalez)
Demonstrators shout slogans against Israel's military strikes on the Gaza Strip during a protest in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, January 9, 2009. (AP/Rene Gonzalez)

The Palestinian Authority will “immediately” open an embassy in Paraguay, Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Wednesday, as Ramallah feted the country’s decision to move its Israeli embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.

Malki said the surprise announcement by Asunción earlier Wednesday was the result of his lobbying push to reverse the Jerusalem embassy move two weeks ago, and PA president Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the move as “courageous.”

“This courageous move by the Paraguay government is an example for all countries in facing Israeli greed and attempts by the American administration to impose it on the world when it moved its embassy to Jerusalem in the so-called deal of the century,” he said.

Responding to Paraguay’s about-face, which came only four months after the embassy moved from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the closure of Israel’s embassy in the country and warned that ties between the allies would be clouded.

Paraguayan Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, in Asuncion, to announce Paraguay is moving its embassy in Israel back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, on September 05, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / NORBERTO DUARTE)

But Malki said the Palestinians would replace it with an embassy of their own, solidifying ties between Ramallah and Asunción, which has already recognized a Palestinian state, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

Abbas said Paraguay’s move “was the result of the wise and vigorous Palestinian diplomatic efforts to explain the dangers of the transfer of embassies to Jerusalem.”

According to the Wafa report, Malki had threatened Asunción that he would take them to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, as they plan on doing to the US and Guatemala, which also moved their embassies to Jerusalem.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat also applauded the move, while urging Guatemala to follow suit.

“We also call upon the government of Guatemala to stand on the right side of history and move its embassy outside Jerusalem,” said Erekat in a statement.

“This is also time for the Trump administration to realize that no peace-loving country will follow their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Only respecting international law and UN resolutions will help to achieve a just and lasting peace,” he added.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a speech on August 15, 2018. (WAFA)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also thanked Paraguay for its decision

“We express our deep gratitude to Paraguay and the Paraguayan leadership for its wise decision to withdraw its embassy from the occupied city of Jerusalem which comes in respect to the rights of the Palestinian people international law UN resolutions,” his office said in a statement.

Paraguay’s decision came as a major blow to Netanyahu’s drive for international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; Paraguay was one of two countries to move its embassy following the US decision to recognize the city as the capital and move its own embassy in May.

In a Foreign Ministry document on plans for 2019 leaked to the Haaretz daily, the Paraguay move was listed as a success that Israel’s foreign service would be able to build upon.

In response to the reversal, Israel angrily announced that it was closing its embassy in Paraguay and recalled ambassador Ze’ev Harel, saying Asunción’s decision cast a shadow over bilateral relations.

Paraguay President Horacio Cartes (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurate Paraguay’s new embassy in Jerusalem, May 21, 2018 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“Israel views with utmost gravity the extraordinary decision by Paraguay, which will cloud bilateral relations,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Paraguay wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East,” the country’s new Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni told reporters in explaining his country’s sudden about-face.

He pointed to a long history of positive relations with Israel.

“I don’t think this should annoy our Israeli brothers and friends,” said Paraguay’s Castiglioni.

The Paraguayan flag and a message thanking the country is projected onto the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 21, 2018, for the opening of the Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem. (Yontan Sindel/Flash90)

“There are more than 85 countries that have kept their embassies in Tel Aviv and we’re historic allies of Israel.

“Don’t forget that Paraguay’s vote was the decisive vote in the creation of Israel.”

In line with most of Latin America, Paraguay was one of the 33 countries that voted in favor — compared to just 13 against and 10 abstentions — of the 1947 United Nations two-state partition plan for what was until then British Mandate Palestine.

The decision to move the embassy had been made under previous president Horacio Cartes, and then-president-elect Mario Abdo Benítez was not consulted.

Castiglioni said Paraguay had always been “predictable in its international relations” but that Cartes’s move was “a distortion of this tradition and culture of respect for international law” and UN decrees.

The Israeli embassy in Asunción had just reopened two years ago, after it had been shut in 2002 due to what the government said were budgetary constraints.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (R) congratulates new Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez at his swearing-in ceremony on August 16, 2018. (Jerusalem Municipality)

The new government’s decision to return its embassy to Tel Aviv follows the recent decision of Colombia to recognize a Palestinian state, much to Israel’s chagrin.

Once Paraguay closes its Jerusalem embassy, only two countries will have their embassies in the capital: the US and Guatemala.

Until 2012, Paraguay’s embassy was located in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, until it was closed after Israel shut its mission in Asunción due to what the Foreign Ministry at the time called “budgetary constraints.”

In July 2013, president-elect Cartes announced the country would reopen its embassy in Israel, this time in Tel Aviv. Three years later, Israel reopened its Asunción mission.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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