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Guatemala, Following The U.S., Opens Its Own Embassy In Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, flanked by their wives, cut the ribbon during a ceremony Wednesday inaugurating the Guatemalan Embassy in Jerusalem.
Ronen Zvulun
AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, flanked by their wives, cut the ribbon during a ceremony Wednesday inaugurating the Guatemalan Embassy in Jerusalem.

Two days after the U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem, Guatemala has moved its own embassy to the contested city.

Images of the Guatemalan, Israeli and U.S. flags were projected on walls of the Old City Tuesday night, in anticipation of Wednesday's inauguration.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales — an evangelical — wrote on Facebook, "With the opening of our embassy in the city of Jerusalem, Guatemala takes a courageous decision, a step forward in favour of union and friendship. This decision will be a legacy that will bring great benefits to everyone."

At a lunch after the ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it "a great day" for both Israel and Guatemala. "I welcome my friend President Jimmy Morales. Guatemala was with us at the beginning, and Guatemala is with us today, and we welcome the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem."

Not everyone was pleased with Guatemala's decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Latin American country "has chosen to stand on the wrong side of history."

"We are not surprised that a president that has objected to U.N. investigations into corruption and abuses of power has decided to further violate international resolutions," he said. "Make no mistake, such an insult against the Palestinian people reflects the insult against millions of Central Americans that have struggled for the values of justice and peace. The narrative presented by the Guatemalan government to justify this move also reflects its alliance with the Israeli occupation and right-wing fundamentalists."

Guatemala became the first country to open its embassy in Jerusalem — in 1959 — according to The Times of Israel. Other countries followed suit. But after Israel enacted a law in 1980 proclaiming Jerusalem "complete and united" as its capital, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling on countries to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city.

Until Monday, no nation had its embassy in Jerusalem.

As another sign of close relations with Israel, Guatemala's Congress recently passed a law that proclaimed May 14 as "Israel-Guatemala Friendship Day."

Friendship between Guatemala and Israel traces back decades.

In 1947, the U.N. approved a partition plan that would create two separate states — Jewish and Arab — and keep Jerusalem under international control. "Guatemala was involved as one of the architects of the partition plan," Arie Kacowicz, a professor in the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told The Israel Project.

Indeed, Netanyahu noted at the embassy opening that Guatemala's former ambassador to the U.N., Jorge Garcia Granados, lobbied Latin American countries to vote in favor of the partition resolution, "which was effectively the recognition of the Jewish state by the United Nations."

Israel, in turn, provided Guatemala with military support. "Israel became Guatemala's largest arms supplier in the early 1970s," according to a 1985 article in The Link, a magazine published by Americans For Middle East Understanding. It was also, with Taiwan, "the most active in training Guatemalan officers, who often travel to both countries."

Haaretz has more on the Israeli support:

"Israel sold weapons and defense systems to Guatemala on a larger scale in the Reagan era, helping the regime fight insurgents using Israeli-trained intelligence teams, security and communications specialists, and military training personnel in Guatemala. At the time, the human rights community looked askance at Israel using its expertise to train and help a police state repress insurgent groups and, most brutally, indigenous Mayan Indians.

"In the following decades, following the end of the Guatemalan civil war in 2000, the relationship between Israel and the Guatemalan military remained intact."

As celebrations got underway for the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians protesting along the Gaza border. Among them were women, children, journalists, first responders and bystanders, according to the U.N.'s human rights commissioner.

Other nations also appear ready to have their ambassadors make the move from Tel Aviv. Paraguay plans to relocate its embassy by the end of the month. Leaders in Romania, the Czech Republic and Honduras have also announced their intentions to move their embassies to Jerusalem.

Guatemala's move may offer it a chance to strengthen diplomatic ties with the United States, which has faced widespread condemnation for recognizing the disputed city as Israel's capital.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sasha Ingber is a reporter on NPR's breaking news desk, where she covers national and international affairs of the day.
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