By Recognizing Jerusalem, Latin American Leaders Can Help Bring Peace to The Region

As much of the world’s attention has focused on the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem this week, another scheduled move to recognize Jerusalem’s centrality to the Jewish State has largely flown under the radar. Guatemala will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem just two days after the US move, with Paraguay set to follow by the end of the month. This comes weeks after the National Congress of Honduras overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on its President to relocate the Honduras embassy to Jerusalem.
The willingness of Latin American leaders to show their support for Israel cannot be understated. There are of course many reasons why these countries choose to move their embassies to Jerusalem, but the decisions are steeped in many years of dialogue and interaction between foreign dignitaries, personal relationships and international diplomacy being the lynchpin of such policy decisions.

As well as those three nations, the countries voting against, absent or abstaining from the damning UN resolution against the American decision on Jerusalem last December included Columbia, Mexico, Argentina, Panama and El Salvador. This should come as no surprise to those with knowledge of Latin America’s role in recognizing the newly created State of Israel. Thirteen Latin American and Caribbean countries were among 33 states that cast ballots in favor of the UN Partition Plan, which paved the way for Israel’s independence.

Guatemala was among the first countries to recognize the State of Israel after independence was declared and the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish State in 1948, paving the way for many others.

While the decisions of Latin American leaders undoubtedly have a bearing on US domestic policy, we’ve seen over the past year especially a marked effort on the part of many Latin American countries to improve their relationship with Israel. Last week, a new survey by the Latin American Jewish Congress revealed that 65% of Latin American Jewish leaders fear their community could be the target of a terrorist attack, while a similar level (60%) of those surveyed believed the Trump administration “will help positively with the security of Israel”.

Our own experience in bringing Latin American leaders to Israel as part of the International Mayors Conference has been incredibly positive.

Each year, the American Jewish Congress welcomes Mayors from more than 30 countries to Israel, where they participate in meetings with high-level dignitaries and innovators to promote global solidarity and better inform municipal leaders on Jewish affairs.

By building new relationships with other global and municipal leaders, we aim to encourage mayors with the talent, vision and will to change the economic and political dynamic for their communities and beyond their neighborhoods and help inspire increased understanding and tolerance between nations.

Our alumni have included the former Mayor of Mixto, Guatemala City, Otto Perez Leal, who attended the 2012 conference and Jose Isabel Blandon Figueroa the incumbent Mayor of Panama City, Panama, who attended in 2014. This year we hosted the Mayor of Encarnacion, Paraguay, Luis Yd Sanchez and Nayib Bukele, Mayor of San Salvador, who has emerged as one of the front runners in El Salvador’s 2019 presidential election, as part of the delegation. Jerusalem is the designated seat of the Israeli government, the Prime Minister’s office and the legislature. The participating Mayors in our delegations have been left in no doubt where Israel’s capital lies.

The then Mayor of Buenos Aires Mauricio Macri attended the Mayors Conference in 2014, where we had the pleasure of first introducing him to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following Macri’s election as President of Argentina in 2015, there has been a marked improved in Israel’s relationship with the country, as shown when Netanyahu became the first Israeli leader to make an official state visit to Argentina.

The decision by Paraguay President Horacio Cortes to open the country’s new embassy in Israel’s capital will mark one of his final acts before leaving office in August, but the fact that the President-elect is widely expected to join the delegation goes some way to showing the depths of support the move has in political circles in Paraguay.

Despite the fact that the resolution passed by the National Congress of Honduras was not legally binding, President Juan Orlando Hernandez is known to take a pro-Israel stance, having begun his diplomatic career in an Israeli Foreign Ministry International Development training program. Israeli diplomatic sources claim the President has indicated he is willing to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, provided Netanyahu first grants Honduras an official state visit.

This upgrade in diplomacy was set in motion last September when Prime Minister Netanyahu embarked on a 10-day tour of South and Central America. These latest embassy moves are the culmination of a shift in policy from countries including Argentina, Columbia, Paraguay, and Mexico, setting the wheels in motion for a greater allegiance with Israel.

Israel and world Jewry need more leaders like these Latin American heads of state who are willing to put their reputations on the line for the Jewish community. These leaders have continued to show that their values are in line with our own and that they are willing to go the extra mile to acknowledge historical fact and Israel’s right to self-determination. Netanyahu has shown he is open to diplomacy with a growing number of international partners, founded on the need for better dialogue and engagement and in the interests of Israel’s security. Peace can only be achieved in the Middle East through diplomacy. A growing number of Latin American leaders have shown themselves ready to play a role in creating the necessary culture for diplomacy and in doing so, bolster their historical ties with the State of Israel and set a precedent in moving their embassies. We look forward to continuing working with our partners in the region to encourage them to follow suit.

Jack Rosen, President, American Jewish Congress

Dr. Munr Kazmir, Vice President, American Jewish Congress

Dr. Ben Chouake, Secretary, American Jewish Congress

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