Guatemala opens Jerusalem embassy, two days after US

Central American country’s president hails a ‘love between brothers,’ Netanyahu vows his next Latin America trip will include a stop in Guatemala City

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Guatemala opened its embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, two days after the US moved its mission to the capital.

The Central American country’s president, Jimmy Morales, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut a blue-and-white ribbon, and later placed pieces of the ribbon in the pockets of their suit jackets.

“This is the beginning of something extraordinary, or I would say, the re-beginning of something extraordinary, which is the relationship between Guatemala and Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“Yesterday we opened the American embassy in Jerusalem, two days ago, and it’s not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You are always among the first, always among the first,” Netanyahu went on, recalling that Guatemala was the second nation, after the US, that recognized the State of Israel in May 1948.

Netanyahu mentioned that there is a Guatemala Street, named in honor of the country’s former ambassador to the UN Jorge Garcia Granados.

Seventy-one years ago, Granados played a crucial role in convincing Latin American countries to vote in favor of General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wife Sara, Guatemala President Jimmy Morales (2R) and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel (L) pose for a picture at the official opening ceremony of the Guatemala embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

“We remember our friends, and Guatemala is our friend — then and now,” Netanyahu said.

“We share so many goals and values even though were are so far away,” he added, vowing to advance the bilateral relationship in “practical ways.”

“Judaism started in Jerusalem, Christianity started in Jerusalem and this is something that is a sharing principle that allows us to go forward to many, many areas of modernity, of technology, of prosperity, an alliance for prosperity,” Netanyahu said.

At the end of his brief speech, Netanyahu promised that his next trip to Latin America would include a stop in Guatemala, though he did not announce concrete travel plans.

The ceremony, at Guatemala’s small embassy in Jerusalem’s Malha Technological Park, was a much humbler affair than Monday’s dedication of the US embassy. It started with a singer rendering all eight stanzas of Guatemala’s national anthem, followed by the guests signing Hatikva, without musical accompaniment.

“Today is a historic day,” Guatemalan Ambassador Sara Solís Castañeda said, noting that her country was the first in Latin American to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Guatemala was also the first country in the world to open an embassy in Jerusalem in 1956, she noted.

The embassy was closed in 1980, after Israel passed a law declaring that a “complete and united” Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, and the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling on member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city.

Guatemala’s embassy in Israel was the country’s first in Asia, according to the ambassador.

“Israel is so special to all Guatemalans,” she said.

Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel, who also traveled to Israel for the embassy inauguration, spoke of values such as democracy and the fight against corruption that the two countries share, and hailed Guatemala’s “important Jewish community.”

She called Jerusalem “the eternal capital of Israel.”

The last speaker was President Morales, who described Israel-Guatemala ties as a “love between brothers” that will last forever. He noted the special bond that ties his country, the Jewish state and the US together, speaking of “three friends that share friendship, courage and loyalty.”

Morales also recalled the country’s fruitful bilateral cooperation, vowing to take concrete steps to strengthen them.

“Guatemala and Israel — united forever,” he declared.

On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to move American embassy there. His move was widely condemned by the international community, though a number of Latin American and Central European countries have indicated they may follow suit. Currently, only Paraguay has confirmed that it plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

President Horacio Cartes is due in Israel next week to open his country’s embassy, which is also located at the Malha Technological Park.

Later on Wednesday, Netanyahu is set to hold an official meeting with Morales and Jovel at his office, and will host the Guatemalan president and his wife for dinner, according to the prime minister’s schedule.

In December, Trump bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The US embassy was officially opened in Jerusalem on Monday in an event attended by a large high-level American delegation, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and Israeli leaders.

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