Paraguay becomes third country to open embassy in Jerusalem

‘We have no better friends than you,’ Netanyahu tells President Cartes; Palestinians slam ‘provocative and irresponsible measure’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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)
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)

Paraguay opened its new embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailing the country as a “true friend” of Israel, making it the third country to do so after the United States and Guatemala opened their embassies in the city last week.

In a ceremony in the capital’s Malha Technological Park, the prime minister and Paraguay’s President Horacio Cartes together unveiled the new mission’s plaque, making the move official.

“A great day for Israel; a great day for Paraguay — a great day for our friendship,” Netanyahu said.

“You have done much for your country. Now you’re doing something for both our countries,” Netanyahu told Cartes.

Netanyahu recalled that Paraguay helped Jews escape Nazi Germany and supported the creation of the State of Israel.

“Paraguay, before but especially under your leadership, took a very bold stance in international affairs and refused to cooperate with the lies directed against Israel,” Netanyahu told Cartes. “We always remember that. Thank you Horacio. Thank you, and thank you Paraguay.”

Netanyahu said cooperation between the two countries would become “greater,” naming areas such as agriculture, security and technology.

“We remember our friends. We have no better friends than you. Thank you, Horacio. Thank you, Paraguay,” Netanyahu concluded his brief remarks.

The Paraguayan leader called it a “historic event,” adding, that this occasion “is of special significance because it expresses the sincere friendship and brave solidarity between Paraguay and Israel.”

Said Cartes: “From the depth of my heart, I appreciate this country that courageously defends its right to live in peace and it is building a praiseworthy economically prosperous state that ensures its future and that of its children.”

Until 2012, Paraguay’s embassy was located in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, until it was closed after Israel shut its mission in Asuncion 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. Israel’s embassy in Asuncion reopened less than two years ago.

Following Monday’s embassy inauguration in Jerusalem, which was a much more modest affair than last week’s dedication of the new US embassy in the capital’s Arnona neighborhood, Cartes was set to attend a reception at the Foreign Ministry along with Netanyahu.

Earlier on Monday, Cartes met President Reuven Rivlin.

Last month, Cartes said he wanted to relocate the country’s embassy to Jerusalem before the end of his presidential term in August.

The decision has been controversial in Paraguay. It comes less than two months before Mario Abdo Benitez replaces Cartes, and the new president-elect has said he wasn’t consulted.

Israel claims the entire city as its eternal capital. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as their future capital and have been infuriated by the embassy moves, though each has been in the western part of the city.

Most countries maintain embassies in Tel Aviv and have balked at moving them until the international legal status of the city has been resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

On Sunday, Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi issued a statement condemning Paraguay for the move.

“By adopting such a provocative and irresponsible measure that is in direct contravention of international law and consensus, Paraguay has conspired with Israel, the United States and Guatemala to entrench the military occupation and to seal the fate of occupied Jerusalem,” her statement read.

She called on all law-abiding countries to “to sever relations with the countries that support Israel’s unilateral annexation of occupied Jerusalem.”

In addition to the US, Guatemala and Paraguay, a number of other countries have expressed interest in moving their embassies to Israel, among them Honduras, the Czech Republic and Romania.

People watch as US President Donald Trump speaks in a prerecorded video shown at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US President Donald Trump bucked longstanding international consensus on December 6 with a public declaration that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, at which time he also announced he would move the embassy to the city.

In a video message shown at last week’s embassy inauguration, Trump said his recognition was of the “plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem,” noting that the city houses Israel’s main governmental facilities, Supreme Court, Prime Minister’s Office and president’s home.

He also stressed that the US remains committed to facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and called for Israel to preserve the status quo at religious sites in Jerusalem.

AP and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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