Israel ‘surprised’ by Colombian recognition of Palestinian state

Foreign Ministry says it is waiting for the new government in Bogota to explain move by ex-president during his last days in office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 11, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 11, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it was blindsided by the outgoing leader of Colombia’s decision to quietly recognize a Palestinian state.

“We are surprised about the report in the media and are waiting to receive explanations from the new government, which is looking into the matter,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said in the first official comment, which came nearly a full day after the revelation.

A day after President Ivan Duque was inaugurated in Bogota, it was revealed that the outgoing government of Juan Manuel Santos had quietly recognized a Palestinian state last week.

“I would like to inform you that in the name of the government of Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has decided to recognize Palestine as a free, independent and sovereign state,” said a letter from Colombia’s foreign ministry dated August 3.

On August 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unexpectedly canceled a planned trip to Colombia, citing the volatile security situation in Israel’s south.

Netanyahu was set to attend the inauguration of Duque, who took office on Tuesday, succeeding the unpopular center-right president Santos.

Colombia’s new President Ivan Duque gestures after receiving the presidential sash during his inauguration ceremony at Bolivar Square in Bogota, on August 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Raul Arboleda)

Duque, of the right-wing Democratic Center party, has said he wanted to improve his country’s good relations with Israel, even openly mulling the idea of moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Bogota, an ally of the United States, has historically maintained close ties with Israel.

Duque’s government said it would study the implications of Santos’s last-minute decision on the Palestinians, but acknowledged that it was legal.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (R) walks alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas during an official welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 4, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The US doesn’t recognize a Palestinian state, and Colombia long refrained from doing so due its close ties with Washington. But in recent years Colombia has sought to chart a more independent foreign policy that has included calling for changes to US-backed anti-narcotics policies.

More than 130 countries have already recognize a Palestinian state, though none exists yet on the ground. Before the announcement, Colombia had been one of only two countries in the region, along with Panama, not to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian mission in Bogota told AFP that they were told of the decision last Friday. It welcomed the move by Bogota as evidence of “profound efforts to reach a rapprochement.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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