Guatemala opens Israel embassy in Jerusalem after US move
RONEN ZVULUN (POOL/AFP)
Guatemala inaugurated its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, becoming the first country to follow in the footsteps of the United States' deeply controversial move that was accompanied by deadly violence on the Gaza border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales were among officials who attended a ceremony inaugurating the new embassy at an office park in the disputed city, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US and Guatemalan moves break with decades of international consensus. US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also attended Wednesday's ceremony.
So far the only other nation with immediate plans to open an Israel embassy in Jerusalem is Paraguay, expected to do so before the end of the month.
The Israeli premier spoke of Guatemala's early recognition of the state of Israel after its creation in 1948 and said he would visit the country of 16 million on his next visit to Latin America.
"I look forward to assessing with you the practical ways... that we can advance this friendship and this alliance," Netanyahu said.
"But today, I just want to say how delighted we are to have you."
Morales called it a "transcendental moment for future generations" who will "remember that friendly countries took courageous decisions in favor of Israel and we do this because you have a special place in our hearts."
the Guatemalan government has positioned itself alongside Israel and its war crimes, defying international law and supporting the military occupation and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.
'To the fringes'
The US embassy move on Monday was accompanied by mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border that saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians, and the Guatemalan decision to follow suit earned a rebuke from the Palestinian leadership.
"The Guatemalan government has positioned itself alongside Israel and its war crimes, defying international law and supporting the military occupation and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem," senior official Hanan Ashrawi said.
"Clearly, the Guatemalan government has been emboldened by the US administration’s irresponsible and provocative policies."
Israel has faced international criticism over its use of live fire, but says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the Palestinian enclave, which is run by Islamist movement Hamas.
Guatemala already had an embassy in Jerusalem in 1959, but later moved it to Tel Aviv due to international rejection of Israel’s claim to East Jerusalem.
Following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December last year, Guatemala was also the first country to follow.
Morales's decision to move Guatemala's embassy has been seen as partly influenced by his evangelical religious beliefs.
Evangelicals want to see Jews rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, which according to their beliefs would facilitate the second coming of Christ.
The move is also seen by some as a gesture to elicit US support at a time when Morales stands accused by Guatemalan prosecutors of accepting illegal campaign contributions.
Former Guatemalan foreign minister Gabriel Orellana has said Morales's embassy move has the effect of banishing his country "to the fringes of the United Nations".
Ahead of the embassy opening, the Old City had illuminated its walls with flags of Guatemala, Israel, and the US.
Jerusalem's mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement thanking president Jimmy Morales ahead of the embassy opening:
"Guatemalan Embassy, welcome home! Ahead of the inauguration of the embassy, we have illuminated the walls of the Old City with the flags of Guatemala and Israel. I thank President Jimmy Morales Cabrera of Guatemala for his courageous decision and am honored that we will be opening the embassy in the capital of Israel tomorrow,” Barkat said.
“I call upon other countries to join the United States and Guatemala - do the right thing and bring your embassies to the Jerusalem, our eternal capital!" the mayor added.
The new Guatemalan embassy will be located in Jerusalem’s Malha Technology Park, and the ambassador, Sara Solís Castañeda, is expected to continue working from her Herzliya residence until she finds a new home in the Jerusalem.
Jerusalem's status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the decades since 1967, international consensus has been that the city's status must be negotiated between the two sides, but Trump broke with that to global outrage.
He has argued that it helps make peace possible by taking Jerusalem "off the table", but many have pointed out he has not announced any concessions in return from Israel.
AFP contributed to this report.
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Congrats Guatemala!!! Honduras.... your turn.