Abbas to lay cornerstone for PA embassy in Brazil

PA president expected to preside over ground breaking ceremony in Brasilia; Country’s Jewish community says unilateral moves won’t help.

Abbas 521 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Abbas 521
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The battle for Latin America between pro-Israel and pro- Palestinian factions is set to enter a new phase on Friday when Palestinians hold a cornerstone- laying ceremony for an embassy in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, the first state-level Palestinian diplomatic mission on the continent.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to take part in the event and later attend the swearing-in ceremony of Brazilian President-elect Dilma Rousseff, AFP reported.
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Members of Brazil’s Jewish community on Wednesday responded to recent developments by reiterating their position that unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state had a negative effect on talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Most Jews in Brazil believe the Palestinians have the right to a state and that the two can live side by side with security, but they also believe the Brazilian position is not helping to achieve that outcome,” Ricardo Berkensztat, deputy head of Fedaraco Israelita de Estado de Sao Paulo, told The Jerusalem Post. “We believe peace can be obtained only through negotiations.”
Brazil has a small but tightly- knit Jewish population of approximately 100,000 – the second largest in Latin America – which is concentrated chiefly in Sao Paulo and several other cities.
Brazilian Jews are relatively affluent and have considerable political clout. However, the left-leaning government headed by the outgoing President Lula de Silva has traditionally been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and in recent years has grown closer to countries hostile to Israel such as Iran.
Earlier this month, Brazil became the first country in the region to recognize a Palestinian state, and a string of neighbors followed suit.
Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador joined the declaration, Uruguay said it will recognize a Palestinian state in 2011, and pro-Israel and pro- Palestine factions in Chile are currently slugging it out over whether the government there should join its neighbors.
The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said the recognition was in response to a request made by Abbas to Silva a month earlier.
Silva sent a letter to Abbas on December 1, saying Brazil recognizes Palestine and hopes that the recognition will help lead to states of Israel and Palestine “that will coexist peacefully and in security.”
The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said that the recognition is “in line with Brazil’s historic willingness to contribute to peace between Israel and Palestine.”
The declarations by Latin American governments recognizing a Palestinian state caught some Jewish communities in the region by surprise.
When news first emerged that Brazil had recognized a Palestinian state, the Confedaraco Israelita do Brasil (CONIB), the umbrella group for the local Jewish community, chose to remain silent.
CONIB President Claudio Lottenberg said his decision was made in light of the reaction to previous criticism of the Brazilian president’s relationship with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
“If I decided to criticize I will make it more important than it is,” Lottenberg said over the phone on Wednesday.
“From the moment Lula decided to become a friend with Ahmadinejad I told him I could not accept such a president who has a relationship with such an awful person.
“At that moment our friendship became weaker. If I criticized him again then it would have weakened further.
We respect Lula, but his time as president is over.”
Some believe Lula’s decision in the last days of his presidency was aimed at getting support from the Arab and Muslim world for an eventual bid to become secretary- general of the United Nations.
Either way, both Lottenberg and Berkensztat said they were looking forward to working with his succesor, Rousseff, who they believed will be less outspoken on international affairs than her predecessor.
“I recognize that something can change,” Lottenberg said.
“I think this is a new opportunity for us to establish a relationship that hasn’t been damaged.”