Paraguay will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced last Wednesday during his trip to South America. Hours later, he added that Uruguay would also open a branch of its diplomatic mission in the city.
Currently, only four of the almost 100 embassies to Israel are in Jerusalem: Guatemala, Honduras, Kosovo, and the US. When Paraguay’s embassy makes the move, three of the city’s five embassies will belong to Latin American countries.
“All embassies should be in Jerusalem. It has been the capital of the State of Israel since its creation and the Jewish people’s capital for over 3,000 years.”Lior Hayat, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson
Jerusalem’s status remains central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as both sides claim it as their capital. Most countries have elected to leave their embassies in the Tel Aviv area to avoid being perceived as endorsing the Israeli claim. In 2018, however, then-US President Donald Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Argentinian presidential candidate Javier Milei, who recently won local primaries, said last week that if he wins the general election in late October, he will also move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.
Lior Hayat, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told The Media Line there is a long history of positive ties between Israel and Latin American countries. “The friendship between Israel, Latin American countries, and the Jewish people existed even before the creation of the State of Israel,” he said.
Hayat noted that of the 33 UN members that voted in 1947 for Resolution 181, which recommended the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, 13 were Latin American. Just one Latin American country, Cuba, opposed the resolution, while six abstained. And, Hayat said, diplomats from Uruguay, Guatemala, and Brazil advocated for the resolution.
Latin American countries, moreover, opened their doors to Jews escaping Europe during the Holocaust.
Hayat added that the rise of evangelical movements in Latin America “helps political support for Israel. We see that in Guatemala, Honduras, and Central America in general, and lately also in South America.”
Jonathan Grossman, a postdoctoral fellow at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, told The Media Line that some Latin American conservative leaders, including the Paraguayan president, had promised to move their embassy to court the evangelical vote.
“This was the case in Honduras, where evangelicals are the largest denomination,” he added. Paraguay’s evangelical voters are fewer in number, however, and there may have been additional motivations.
Allison Fedirka of Geopolitical Futures, a Texas-based consulting firm, believes that Latin American countries relocate their embassies to strengthen their ties with the US.
“The move to Jerusalem is a political statement that is as much about ties with the US as it is about ties with Israel,” she told The Media Line. “This is one of the stronger diplomatic gestures they can make to gain favor with Washington.”
Fedirka said some Latin American countries are small and need more tools to make big geopolitical statements. “The embassy relocation is primarily diplomatic and political and is relatively easy to execute. It allows these countries to make large statements at relatively low cost,” she explained.
Hebrew University’s Grossman said that the Biden Administration’s nonreversal of President Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “gives confidence to Latin American leaders to move or retain their embassies.”
Still, Grossman was unsure whether Honduras’s new president, Xiomara Castro, would keep her country’s embassy in Jerusalem for long. Castro was once Honduras’ first lady, but her husband, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup. She is now returning to the presidential palace as a democratic socialist, in contrast to her predecessor’s more conservative political orientation.
Hayat, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said domestic Latin American political dynamics often affect ties with Israel. “Some countries see their relations with Israel as part of their local political situation,” he said, citing Venezuela and Cuba, both of which downgraded ties with Israel following the rise of leftist governments.
“This is unfortunate,” Hayat said, “because relations between Israel and Latin American countries should not be subject to local political changes.”
Still, domestic politics clearly do shape Latin American countries’ views on where their Israeli embassies should be located.
For example, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico’s governments will not likely move their embassies to Jerusalem anytime soon. Grossman notes that they “are unlikely to risk friction with the Muslim world and their large and influential Arab diasporas.”
For any Latin American country, added Fedirka, “the decision [to move the embassy to Jerusalem] will be based on domestic political pressures, ties with the US, and the status of the US-Israel relationship.”
The Israeli government, however, considers any country’s decision to move an embassy to Jerusalem as a sign of friendship.
“From our point of view,” said Hayat, the Israeli spokesperson, “all embassies should be in Jerusalem. It has been the capital of the State of Israel since its creation and the Jewish people’s capital for over 3,000 years.”
Hayat added that his office is working to increase the number of Jerusalem-based embassies significantly. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said his goal was to double the number of embassies and representations in the city by the year’s end.
“We know of countries in Europe, Asia, and other places planning on moving their embassies to Jerusalem soon,” Hayat said, adding that when countries decide to do so, they receive Israeli government assistance as needed.
Bilateral relations often improve when countries move their embassies, Hayat said. “The relationships between Israel and Guatemala, and Israel and Honduras, have become stronger over the years because they decided to move their embassies,” he noted.
These closer ties have resulted in more cooperation projects, including higher Israeli humanitarian and technological aid volumes.
Embassy moves are top job for Israeli diplomats
The Israeli Foreign Ministry has 108 diplomatic missions worldwide staffed by 400 diplomats. Despite the large number of projects the Foreign Ministry is involved in, it concentrates on a few primary goals.
“The first one focuses on the very important and unique relations between Israel and the US,” said Hayat, while the second is to expand the Abraham Accords along with other peace and normalization agreements with Arab and Muslim countries.
He said Israel also focuses diplomatic efforts on preventing Iran from reaching weapons-grade nuclear capabilities.
Hayat is optimistic about the Abraham Accords. “We expect other countries to join the circle. And we think a few of them may do so before the end of this year,” he said.
He said that Saudi Arabia is “a country that Israel wants to reach a normalization process with. We have no conflict with Saudi Arabia, and I think we have a possibility [of reaching an agreement].”
In addition, Hayat noted that the US administration is currently pushing to bring the two countries together.