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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales at the opening of the Guatamalan embassy in Jerusalem.(Photo by: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
The move of the Guatemalan Embassy to Jerusalem is no surprise
To be honest, the Guatemalan move shouldn’t be a surprise to any one of us.
The move of the Guatemalan Embassy to Jerusalem is no surprise • By AVITAL LEIBOVICH

Just two weeks after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced that his country would also move its embassy to the capital, no later than two days after the US move. While many Israelis and Jews in Israel and around the world were very happy with this announcement, many also wondered “Why Guatemala?” Israel has such warm relations with other countries, like the UK, Germany and Canada – why suddenly Guatemala, which has a rather small Jewish population of 1,000 people, is the second to take the initiative, and not one of those countries?

To be honest, the Guatemalan move shouldn’t be a surprise to any one of us. President Morales, as well as his foreign minister and 50% of the country’s population are Evangelicals, and great supporters of Israel. In fact, from 1955 until 1980, Guatemala was one of the only countries to maintain an embassy in Jerusalem. By examining the history, we see the Israeli-Guatemalan friendship started much before the establishment of the Jewish state. In 1947, the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which included delegates from 11 countries, convened to discuss the fate of the State of Israel. Dr. Jorje García Granados, a Guatemalan diplomat, was a member of this committee. Dr. Granados organized a group of Latin American ambassadors who worked together and changed the balance in favor of the Partition Plan (Resolution 181). This plan is one of the cornerstones of the Zionist history. As a result, Jewish refugees could immigrate to Israel, and ultimately, it led to the ending of the British Mandate and the establishment of Israel.

It’s also not surprising once you examine the socio-economic-security relations between the countries. During the last decades, Israel and Guatemala cooperated in important fields like water management, agriculture, education and medicine. As part of the Foreign Affairs Ministry International Cooperation Division, over 7,000 Guatemalan professionals were trained in various courses in and by Israel. Since the beginning of 2018, Israel has been discussing different aspects of the country’s development with more than 20 Guatemalan government officials.

Guatemala has a friendship association which includes no less than 45 members of its Congress, out of 158 members. As such, almost every fourth member is a member of the Guatemala-Israel Friendship Association.

“But what happens in the UN?” those who doubt will ask. Well, even when looking at its voting patterns in the UN, Guatemala doesn’t let us down. In December 2017, when the UN condemned President’s Trump declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, seven countries voted against the condemnation. Among them – as you can imagine – was Guatemala. In 2012, at the vote on Palestine’s admission to the UN as a non-member observer state, 41 states abstained – among them, correct, Guatemala.

Guatemalans in the United States make up the sixth largest group among the Latino population, some 1.3 million people. The relations between the countries is not abandoned there, either. The American Jewish Congress, the global Jewish advocacy and diplomacy organization, helped and supported immigration reforms which promoted immigration to the US from Guatemala.

Recently, it was also reported that the Czech Republic is examining moving its embassy to Jerusalem. This relationship can also be discussed at length. But until this happens, let’s give a lot of respect to Guatemala, which always supported Israel, even when it was less popular, and without the support of the leader of the largest superpower. Israel has many friends in the world, we just need to know them and appreciate them more.

The writer is director of AJC Jerusalem.
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