Officials: New Colombian president will continue close ties with Israel

Newly elected President Ivan Duque said that he would consider moving Colombia's embassy to Jerusalem.

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June 19, 2018 02:11
2 minute read.
President Ivan Duque and Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez celebrate after they win the presidentia

President Ivan Duque and Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez celebrate after they win the presidential election in Bogota on Sunday. (photo credit: ANDRES STAPFF/REUTERS)

 
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Israeli officials welcomed Sunday’s election in Colombia of Ivan Duque as the country’s next president, believing he will continue the strong alliance between the two countries that was a hallmark of his political mentor, Alvaro Uribe.

“We are talking about a person who is a friend of Israel, very positive,” Modi Efraim, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy-director general for Latin America, said on Monday. “He is an Uribe man, the person who essentially started Colombia’s strategic relationship with Israel.”

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Uribe was Colombia’s president from 2002 to 2010. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2002 to 2017, Colombia was the sixth-largest market for Israeli arms.

In 2010 and 2011, Duque was an assistant to Uribe on the Palmer Commission that investigated the 2010 MS Mavi Marmara flotilla incident that left 10 Turks dead after Israeli commandos came under attack when trying to prevent the ship from breaking the blockade of Gaza. The commission concluded that the blockade of Gaza was legal, though it said Israel used excessive force in the incident.

Duque said on the campaign trail that he would consider moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and that his government would work “to maintain the best possible relations with the State of Israel.”

Efraim said that Israel’s relationship with Bogota would get closer under Duque across a wide array of fields.

Efraim said that Colombia was one of Israel’s central allies in Latin America. It was one of three countries – along with Argentina and Mexico – that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited last year on his trip to the region, the first-ever visit by a sitting Israeli prime minister to Latin America.

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Efraim said Jerusalem hopes “there will be continued positive development in Colombia’s support for Israel in international forums.”

These comments come against the background of disappointment in Jerusalem that Colombia voted against Israel at the UN General Assembly last week in a resolution accusing Israel of “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate” use of force in Gaza and calling for an “international protection mechanism” for Palestinian civilians.

Mexico and Argentina, by contrast, both abstained in that vote.

Duque decisively defeated his leftist opponent, Gustave Petro, in Sunday’s election. This was the first presidential election in the country since the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Duque, 41, has promised to toughen the peace deal while keeping Colombia’s business-friendly economic policies intact.

Former guerrilla Petro, on the other hand, had pledged to take on political elites, redistribute land to the poor and gradually eliminate the need for oil and coal in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy. His positions prompted critics to compare him to Venezuela’s socialist former president Hugo Chavez. He was also critical during the campaign of Israel’s actions in Gaza, and the US move of its embassy to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, meanwhile, is carefully following the election campaigns in two other key Latin American countries: Mexico – with which Israel has improved ties over the last number of years – and Brazil. Mexico goes to the polls on July 1, and Brazil will vote in October.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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