Just as Guatemala followed the United States in May 1948 and was the second country to recognize Israel, it became the second state after the US on Wednesday to open its embassy in Jerusalem.
"This is the beginning of something extraordinary," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the dedication of the new embassy on the third floor of a high-rise office building in the Malha Technological Park in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said that this move goes "hand in hand" with opening two days ago of the US embassy in the capital. “It is not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You are always among the first,” he said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu met with the President of Guatemala, embassy to be moved in May, March 4, 2018 (GPO)
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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who arrived on Tuesday to take part in the ceremony, underlined in his comments not only the strength of ties between his country and Israel, but also a trilateral relationship with the US. One of the various reasons that have been given for Guatemala’s decision to open the embassy has to do with its desire to strengthen its ties with the US and take a step that will be looked upon favorably by President Donald Trump.
Morales noted that Guatemala, Israel and the US are “three friends that share friendship, courage and loyalty.”
Morales said that the decision to move the embassy will bring “great benefits” for Guatemalans, and that the new embassy will “further strengthen the link between our countries.”
“Guatemala wishes to strengthen strategic and cooperative alliances,” he said. “Therefore, see our country as a gateway to the world. And you will wonder why I say a gateway to the world? Simply because Guatemala has had the courage to make courageous decisions, and many nations are seeing our actions and are deciding on their own based on our actions and decisions.”
Another Latin American country, Paraguay, is scheduled to open its embassy in Jerusalem next week, and Guatemala’s neighbor, Honduras, is expected to announce in a number of weeks that it will be doing the same.
Netanyahu spent much of the day with Morales, with whom he said he wanted to discuss the “practical ways” to advance the relationship, holding meetings with him and his delegation after the dedication ceremony, attending a reception with him in the afternoon, and inviting him and his wife, Patricia Marroquín, for a dinner at his residence in the evening.
Both Morales and Netanyahu noted that the warm relationship between the two states predates the establishment of Israel, when Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN at the time, Jorge García Granados, played an instrumental role in lobbying countries to accept the 1947 Partition Plan, which led to the establishment of Israel some six months later.
Guatemala, as Netanyahu pointed out, was the first Latin America country to recognize Israel, something then followed by others in the region. Netanyahu noted in his remarks that in honor of those efforts, there is a Guatemala Street not far from the new embassy.
“There’s a Guatemala Street in many cities and many communities in Israel, because we remember our friends, and Guatemala is our friend – then and now,” he said.
Because he also wants streets in Guatemala to be named after Israel, Netanyahu announced that “my next trip to Latin America goes through Guatemala.”
The prime minister did not give a definite date for that trip, though there has been talk of him again visiting Latin America – he did so last September – by the end of the year.
Some 150 people crammed into the foyer of the embassy, including US Ambassador David Friedman, US philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and numerous Guatemalan ministers and members of the legislature who flew in for the event.
The ceremony began with a woman leading the guests in a four minute and 20-second rendition of all eight stanzas of the Guatemalan national anthem. This was followed by a 56-second rendition of “Hatikva.”
Guatemalan Ambassador Sara Solis Castañeda welcomed the guests to the new embassy, calling it a “historic day.” She noted that Guatemala was the first country ever to open an embassy in Jerusalem, doing so in 1956. That embassy – along with several others – moved out of the capital in 1980 when the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law that declared “united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The ambassador also noted that the embassy in Jerusalem was Guatemala’s first ever in Asia, and – with the appointment of a woman ambassador in 1960 – was the first Guatemalan embassy with a female ambassador.
Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel, in the country since Friday, referred to Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Israel,” and stressed the values that Israel, Guatemala and the US share, mentioning democracy and the fights against terrorism and corruption.