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After Guatemala embassy move, will other Latin American countries follow suit?

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, pictured with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016, spoke with the Israeli leader before making his Christmas Eve announcement
ABIR SULTAN (POOL/AFP/File)
Panama, Paraguay diplomats tell i24NEWS their countries unlikely to follow US, Guatemala despite abstentions

Days after Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced that his country would follow the United States and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely revealed that Israel was in touch with at least 10 other countries that had expressed intentions to do the same.

Hotovely refused to disclose which countries she was referring to, but speculation has mounted that Latin American countries Honduras, Panama, and Paraguay were among chief candidates.

Based on their strong ties to Israel and their votes at the United Nations last week, where the General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned the United States’ decision regarding Jerusalem, these countries were seen as likely contenders.

Honduras was the only one of these countries that voted against the resolution, with Panama and Paraguay abstaining, together with nine other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico.

An Israeli diplomat in Panama, speaking to i24NEWS on condition of anonymity due to the fact that he was not permitted to give statement on the matter, said rumors swirling about his country following Guatemala’s decision are sadly false and expressed concern about the speculation reaching a point at which the country would have to officially deny it.

SPENCER PLATT (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)

Regarding Paraguay, President Horacio Cartes has been a staunch ally of Israel, celebrating the re-opening of the Israeli embassy in Asuncion last year and supporting Israel at major international forums.

Nevertheless, his Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga stated in a Thursday press conference that despite "more than excellent" relations between the two countries, he isn't aware of any discussions of the possibility of the embassy being moved to Jerusalem considering his country only abstained at the UN vote.

A Paraguayan diplomat in Israel, who asked to remain anonymous, also confirmed to i24NEWS that no Paraguayan official has even brought up the possibility of moving the embassy to Jerusalem and that his country’s neutrality at the General Assembly may have led to unfounded assumptions about their position.

Honduras, meanwhile, has been strengthening its ties to Israel for some time now, with cooperation increasing especially on defense-related issues. President Juan Orlando Hernandez is close to Israel and is even a graduate of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Mashav program for International Development and Cooperation.

Avi Ohayon, GPO

With Hernandez’ re-election being widely contested, though still supported by the US, their vote on the Jerusalem issue is viewed through a lens of internal political turmoil.

Honduran Foreign Minister Maria Dolores Agüero on Wednesday clarified her country's position on the matter in an interview with told the local El Heraldo newspaper, stating that “there haven’t been talks in our government regarding a possible embassy move to Jerusalem”.

Asked about Honduras’ vote against the resolution passed at the UN General Assembly, Agüero said there were two reasons for their opposition.

First, she said, “according to Article 12 of the United Nations Charter...the GA shouldn’t make any recommendation regarding a dispute being dealt with by the Security Council. Secondly, we think the US is free to choose where its embassy will be.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit recent to Latin America has been credited with potentially impacting the region's voting at the UNGA -- with 11 countries from the region abstaining and two opposing the measure.

JACK GUEZ (AFP)

But Victor Harel, Former Israeli Envoy to the Organization of American States, told i24NEWS that he believes the region's voting pattern is more related to US ambassador Nikki Haley’s threats of slashing aid to countries voting against the US than to Netanyahu’s visit.

“We must be very cautious regarding speculations of more Latin American countries moving their embassies. Many are being pressured by Arab countries and their own Palestinian minorities,” Harel stated, adding that he doesn’t think we will see more countries making such announcements.

Raanan Rein, a historian at Tel Aviv University specializing in Latin America, told i24NEWS that “after a humiliating defeat of the US and Israel at the UN, both governments had to show some diplomatic success, and it wasn’t hard for them to put pressure on Guatemala, who had internal and external reasons to do it.”

Rein believes that even though this is an important event and small countries in need of US help could potentially follow Guatemala, he doesn’t see a shift in Latin America regarding countries’ position towards Israel.

“The Israeli government is trying to create an illusion that Trump’s decision will start a tendency in which more countries will do the same,” said Rein “but I believe that it’s just a campaign to erase the shame of the diplomatic defeat at the UN”.

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