Papua New Guinea opened its embassy in Jerusalem on Tuesday at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Papua New Guinean counterpart James Marape.
“Today is a milestone moment for my country Papua New Guinea,” Marape said. “We are here to give respect to the people of Israel to the fullest.”
Marape was explicit in laying out the religious motivation for the move, which makes Papua New Guinea the fifth country to open its embassy in Israel’s capital.
Papua New Guinea opened its embassy in Jerusalem “because of our shared heritage, acknowledging the creator God, the Yahweh God of Israel, the Yahweh God of Isaac and Abraham,” said Marape.
“You have been the great custodian of the moral values that were passed for humanity,” Marape said to Netanyahu.
“Many nations choose not to open their embassies in Jerusalem but we made the conscious choice. This has been the universal capital of the nation and people of Israel. For us to call ourselves Christians, paying respect to God will not be complete without recognizing that Jerusalem is the universal capital of the people and nation of Israel.”
Over 95 percent of Papua New Guineans are Christians, with Catholics forming the largest denomination.
Marape also asked Israel to open an embassy in Port Moresby, and offered to provide the land for the mission. There are currently no plans to do so, the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel.
Israel’s relations with the island nation, which were established in 1978, are handled by its embassy in Australia.
For us to call ourselves Christians, paying respect to God will not be complete without recognizing that Jerusalem is the universal capital of the people and nation of Israel.
The embassy is located in the Jerusalem Technology Park at the southern end of the city, where Guatemala and Honduras also have their embassies.
Marape told local media before taking off for his trip that Israel would fund much of the costs of the office for the first two years, and he confirmed this at Tuesday’s ceremony. Israel’s Channel 12 news on Wednesday quoted the Foreign Ministry saying similar arrangements apply for the embassies in Jerusalem of Honduras and Kosovo.
Marape also said that Israel was helping Port Moresby find a permanent location for its embassy.
“This is where so much of our heritage emerged from,” Netanyahu responded at the ceremony. “This is where our values were forged. This is where our prophets prophesied.”
“I think it’s fitting that a state and a people so deeply committed to these values do what you just did,” he continued.
Netanyahu was joined by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who had landed back in Israel hours earlier following his trip to Bahrain, and by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.
Netanyahu held a meeting with Marape in his office before the ceremony.
Marape also toured Jerusalem’s Old City and Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Tuesday with his delegation, which includes a number of local pastors.
In February, the Foreign Ministry announced that Port Moresby would be making the move, after Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke with his Papua New Guinean counterpart, Justin Tkachenko.
Papua New Guinea’s embassy opening came on the heels of two similar announcements from other countries. In late August, Sierra Leone said that it would open an embassy in Jerusalem. Paraguay announced the week before that it would reopen its embassy in the Israeli capital as well.
Currently, the US, Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo have embassies in Jerusalem.
Israel sees the moves as strengthening its claim to the city as its capital, though most foreign countries situate their embassies in or near Tel Aviv.
Hungary and Fiji are expected to announce embassy moves in the coming months as well.
Papua New Guinea is one of the Pacific nations that regularly vote with Israel at the United Nations, and Tkachenko told Cohen during their call that his country would continue to do so. In December, Papua New Guinea was one of the 25 countries that joined Israel in opposing the UN General Assembly resolution requesting that the International Court of Justice weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, in 2018 it voted to condemn the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while five other Pacific nations rejected the condemnation.
The island nation’s geopolitical importance is on the rise as China and the US jockey for influence in the country and neighboring states in the Pacific Ocean. US President Joe Biden canceled a much-anticipated trip there in May, sending US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his stead.