Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes (L) unveil the new Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem, May 21, 2018..
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Paraguay will move its embassy back to Tel Aviv, Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni said on Wednesday, less than four months after it followed the United States lead and moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
Israel responded furiously, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructing Israel to close its embassy in Asuncion.
“Israel views with extreme gravity the unusual decision by Paraguay that will cast a cloud over relations between the countries,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Explaining the decision to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, Castiglioni said that Paraguay “wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Paraguay followed the US and Guatemala and moved its embassy in May
, with then-president Horacio Cartes making the decision in the final months of his five-year tenure which ended in August.
He was not eligible for reelection in April, which was won by co-party member Mario Abdo, who said that he was not consulted regarding the embassy move. Abdo is the grandson of a Lebanese immigrant.
Wednesday’s developments were a stunning reversal in the direction that ties between the two countries were headed.
Attending the inauguration of the small Paraguayan embassy in the Malha Technological Park in May, Netanyahu said Israeli-Paraguayan cooperation would now “flow like water.”
Netanyahu called the move “a great day for Israel, a great day for Paraguay, and a great day for our friendship.”
Cartes said at the time that the embassy opening “expresses the sincere friendship and brave solidarity” between the two countries.
The Palestinian Authority angrily denounced the move at the time, with the PA Foreign Ministry issuing a statement calling it a blatant act of aggression against the Palestinian people and their rights; a scandalous violation of relevant UN resolutions and international law; and the result of American-Israeli dictates and enticement.
On Wednesday, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maleki congratulated Paraguay's decision, calling it "a new Palestinian diplomatic achievement" and saying he had met Abdo two weeks before.
The PA then announced that it intends to immediately open its own embassy in Paraguay in Asuncion.
Cartes was the first Paraguayan leader to visit Israel when he came here in 2016. He also flew to Buenos Aires in 2017 to meet Netanyahu when he was visiting Latin America.
Cartes was elected in 2013 with a campaign team that included a group of Israeli advisers, including Netanyahu’s former bureau chief Ari Harow.
Ironically, Paraguay’s decision came two days after Colombia’s new President Ivan Duque said that he would not reverse a decision made in the final days of his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos to recognize “Palestine.”
In a radio interview, Duque said he would have liked to have had more debate on the issue, but that he is respectful of decisions made by leaders before their terms expire.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat welcomed the decision: "We commend Paraguay’s decision to act in accordance with its obligations under international law by closing its embassy in Jerusalem and relocating it to Tel Aviv," he said in a statement. " President Abdo’s courageous decision shows that the government of Asunción has chosen to go back to the traditional Latin American position of respect for international law and UN resolutions."
Erekat called We upon the countries that have supported the Palestinians to look into ways "to encourage cooperation and bilateral relations with Paraguay."
Erekat urged the Guatemala to stand on the right side of history and move its embassy outside Jerusalem. "This is also time for [US President Donald] Trump's administration to realize that no peace-loving country will follow their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital," he added. "Only respecting international law and UN resolutions will help to achieve a just and lasting peace."
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, however, found the decision to move the embassy "deeply regrettable and disappointing."
"Paraguay has always been a steadfast supporter of the State of Israel, and it is extremely concerning to witness the unnecessary strain in ties between two historically strong friends," Lauder stated Wednesday night.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
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