The ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be making a ground-breaking visit to Australia, Singapore and Fiji in February, also hopes to visit Latin America during 2017, a trip that would make him the first ever sitting prime minister to visit South or Central America.
“I look forward to visiting Latin America, and perhaps Guatemala, since you just kindly gave me an invitation,” Netanyahu said after meeting visiting Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales on Tuesday.
Netanyahu has made strengthening Israel’s relations in Africa, Asia and Latin America a high foreign policy priority, and diplomatic officials told The Jerusalem Post that there are currently efforts to put together a visit to Latin America by the end of next year.
Netanyahu planned to visit Mexico, Panama and Colombia in 2014, but that visit was scuttled because of a Foreign Ministry strike at the time.
“Israel is your friend. We view Guatemala as our friend. This is a friendship that has also been expressed in international forums. And I think there is a larger picture that I began speaking to you about and that is our interest in entering... Latin America. Latin America has always been friendly to Israel but I think we’re at a position where these relationships can be far, far, far advanced,” he said.
Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Azerbaijan, where he visited briefly once during his first term in office in 1998, and Kazakhstan – where no acting prime minister has ever visited – in December. He is also expected to attend a conference in the West African state of Togo in the spring.
He was the first sitting prime minister to visit Africa since 1987, when he visited four East African states over the summer.
His trip to Australia, Singapore and Fiji will mark the first time a sitting Israeli premier has visited those countries as well.
Netanyahu, at a photo opportunity with Morales, told the president, who came into office in January, that he admires “the fact that you’re making every effort to modernize Guatemala, its economy, its infrastructure, its agriculture. We just had the opportunity to speak briefly about the main concern. I asked you: ‘What is the first thing you want to achieve?’ And you said: ‘I want to improve the water supply and the water system of my country.’ And I said: ‘You came to the right place.’” Like President Reuven Rivlin, who met Morales the day earlier, Netanyahu noted Guatemala’s role – and the role of its ambassador to the UN at the time, Jorge Garcia Granados – for key support of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which passed on November 29, 1947, 69 years ago on Tuesday.
Netanyahu remarked that there is a Guatemala Street not far from his office, and like Rivlin the day before, said, “In just about every town in Israel there is a Guatemala Street.”
But, as Israel Radio’s Ronen Polak pointed out, a search on Waze reveals that only Jerusalem has a Guatemala Street.
Morales, in his brief remarks, said that Israel’s ability to overcome its water shortages “shows that when the people of Israel want to make great change it succeeds with efficiency.
And this is an example we would like to follow. So we are asking for your assistance and we want to deepen our friendship so that we can work together.”
Morales and his delegation also visited the Knesset, where he took part in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1947 vote on the United Nations Partition Plan, which sought to divide the British Mandate for Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein thanked Morales for Guatemala’s activism in favor of the plan 69 years ago.
“The ties between Israel and Guatemala are deep and historic. Before Israel’s establishment, on the eve of the UN decision on November 29, we still remember and appreciate the actions of Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN, Dr. Jorge Garcia Granados, who enlisted Latin American states to vote in favor of the partition plan. It could be that without Guatemala, the resolution on that fateful day would not have passed, and history would be very different,” Edelstein said.
Edelstein thanked Morales for his country’s continued support for Israel and said the visit expresses both states’ readiness to increase cooperation and strengthen ties.
The Guatemalan president said he was happy that Guatemala was among the first countries to recognize Israel upon its establishment in 1948.
“In this visit, we want to deepen the dialogue between the two countries and strengthen bilateral ties,” Morales stated. “As allies, the excellent relations between our countries will continue.”Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.