Colombia to open Jerusalem trade office in nod to Israel's sovereignty

Office opening is seen as a partial victory for the campaign to push international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Ivan Duque Marquez, President of Colombia, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, 7 November 2021. (photo credit: THE WESTERN WALL HERITAGE FOUNDATION)
Ivan Duque Marquez, President of Colombia, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, 7 November 2021.
(photo credit: THE WESTERN WALL HERITAGE FOUNDATION)

Colombia plans to open a trade and innovation office in Jerusalem on Tuesday that would be a satellite of its Tel Aviv embassy, a move that signals President Ivan Duque’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over its capital city.

Arriving in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit, Duque will be present for the celebratory opening. Among his first stops in Israel was Jerusalem’s Old City, including a visit to the Western Wall, where he donned a kippah to pray, and placed a note between the crevices.

Duque made clear last year his commitment to Jerusalem when he first announced plans to open the trade office, during an address to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The move is seen as a partial victory for Israel’s campaign to push the international community to recognize Jerusalem as its capital, particularly in the wake of the US relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. Only three countries have followed suit: Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo.

Most countries refuse to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, nor do they view it as part of sovereign Israeli territory. As a result, most embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv, including Colombia’s. Equatorial Guinea and Malawi have also pledged to open embassies in Jerusalem.

 Ivan Duque Marquez, President of Colombia, speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021.  (credit:  REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY/POOL) Ivan Duque Marquez, President of Colombia, speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY/POOL)

The Czech Republic and Hungary took a small step toward recognition by opening diplomatic offices, and Colombia now follows.

Duque was accompanied by six ministers, including those in charge of health, agriculture, environment, transportation, trade and defense. The large delegation also includes entrepreneurs and members of the Colombian Jewish community that numbers fewer than 10,000.

Although Israel and Colombia established relations soon after Israel’s establishment, only in 2013 did a Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, visit Israel.

Both men, the former and current president, set their sights on Israel as a sign of the growing ties between the two countries, and formalized a free-trade agreement in 2020. This occurred simultaneously with Colombia’s recognition of Palestine as a state in 2018.

Israel’s ambassador to Colombia, Christian Cantor, told reporters last week that Bogotá was a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and that Colombia plays a positive role in helping ties between Israel and Latin America.

In a video interview with the American Jewish Committee last year, Duque spoke of his strong feelings for Israel: “Colombia is the No. 1 ally of Israel in Latin America,” he said. It was a phrase Duque repeated when he landed in Israel after visiting the United Arab Emirates.

Duque is scheduled to meet with President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and will participate in a number of economic events, with the aim of increasing bilateral ties. The six ministers will meet their Israeli counterparts.