Papua New Guinea to open Jerusalem embassy, Israel announces
Port Moresby expected to make move by end of year; Fiji might follow suit after decades-long campaign by Christian organization
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
Papua New Guinea will move its embassy to Jerusalem this year, Israel announced on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke last week with his Papua New Guinean counterpart, Justin Tkachenko, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Papua New Guinea does not have an embassy in Israel, but does maintain a consulate near Tel Aviv. Israel’s relations with the island nation are handled from its embassy in Australia.
The two countries established ties in 1978.
According to the Israeli readout of the call, the two also discussed expanding bilateral economic ties, particularly in agricultural technology.
Tkachenko did not respond to requests for comment.
An embassy move could cause tensions with Papua New Guinea’s powerful Muslim neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, which do not recognize Israel.
Papua New Guinea is one of the Pacific nations that regularly vote with Israel at the United Nations, and Tkachenko told Cohen 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.
Cohen called the embassy plan “further evidence of the warm and important relationship between the countries.”
Papua New Guinea’s move comes amid signs that Fiji is planning to open an embassy in Jerusalem as well. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka told Israel’s Ambassador Roi Rosenblit, “My personal feeling is that Jerusalem should be the location of our new Fiji embassy, but I will have to sell this to our coalition partners.”
Rabuka came to power in December, heading a three-party government that includes the right-wing Christian Sodelpa party. One of party leader Viliame Gavoka’s demands was that Fiji open an embassy in Jerusalem.
“Fiji is predominantly a Christian country and it has always been the wish of the Christian community to have a presence in the holy land,” Gavoka told Radio Free Asia.
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Though Israel’s diplomats have been hard at work building alliances with Pacific nations, much of the progress has been the result of the efforts of the Jerusalem-based International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem.
An American nuclear scientist, Victor Schlatter, moved to the Papuan highlands with his wife Elsie in the 1950s to translate the Bible into local languages. He also established a network of over 100 churches that preach support for Israel.
The ICEJ appointed the Schlatters as its representative to the South Pacific islands in the 1980s, where they spread their teachings on Israel and brought thousands of pilgrims to Israel for the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebrations on the Sukkot holiday.
“The ICEJ is thrilled that our many decades of work in building Christian support for Israel in the South Pacific region is bearing good fruit through these recent decisions of Fiji and Papua New Guinea to open embassies in Jerusalem,” said David Parsons, ICEJ spokesman.
“We hope and expect more Oceania nations to also ascend to Jerusalem soon,” he added.