Washington has urged Asuncion to think twice about the “historic relationship” between the US, Israel and Paraguay, and reconsider its decision to move the country’s Israeli embassy back to Tel Aviv.
Paraguay was one of the first countries to follow the US in shifting their Embassy to Jerusalem.
On December 6th, 2017, US President Donald Trump pivoted from decades’ long US foreign policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump’s announcement triggered a wave of protests and violence across the Middle East. In May 2018, President Trump’s daughter and White House aide Ivanka Trump inaugurated the new interim US embassy in Jerusalem
Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.
Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
In May, Paraguay joined a tiny list of countries that opted to follow US’ suit by moving their embassies in wake of Donald Trump’s recognition of the holy city as the capital of the Jewish state.
On former president Horacio Cartes’ orders, Paraguay’s embassy officially moved to Jerusalem on May 21, less than a week after the United States relocated its mission. Guatemala also relocated their diplomatic mission to the city, which the Jewish nation views as its historic capital.
Read more about our analysis on Trump’s decision to move the Embassy to Jerusalem here.
A statement by the White House on Thursday said that the administration has contacted Paraguay's new President Mario Abdo Benitez, and asked him not to reverse his predecessor's decision on this matter.
Despite the move, which was well-received at the time by Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdo Benitez, who took office in August, decided to reverse the relocation. In retaliation, Israel announced that it would close its embassy in the South American country.
The new president, however, rushed to defend his move by stressing that “Paraguay is a country of principles,” which strives to achieve “broad, lasting and just peace” between Israelis and Palestinians by following international law.
Amid massive disapproval from the Jewish community, the Arab League applauded Asuncion’s choice, while the Palestinian Authority branded Paraguay’s decision a “diplomatic achievement,” promising to “immediately” open its representation in the Latin American country.
The Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki reportedly urged the new Paraguayan president to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, according to the Palestinian foreign ministry.
The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that the efforts to change the Paraguayan decision began after Abdo was sworn in and Foreign Minister Al-Maliki participated in the inauguration. It was decided that the Palestinians would not publicize the decision in order for Israeli not to apply pressure to Paraguay.
Mr Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy was denounced by the Palestinians, who said it showed the US could not be a neutral mediator. UN member states also voted decisively at the General Assembly in favour of a resolution effectively calling the US declaration "null and void" and demanding it be cancelled.
Israel regards Jerusalem as its "eternal and undivided" capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem - occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war - as the capital of a future state.
The reversal of Paraguay’s decision can be seen as their attempt to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The intense lobbying from the US is no longer to keep Paraguay in line with Washington’s push to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital. It is now about President Trump’s personal reputation as a “brilliant negotiator” and therefore there is additional pressure from the White House on Paraguay.
The decision to move the embassy itself was the fulfilment of a campaign promise Trump had made to the pro-Israeli American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Paraguay’s decision to reverse the move is indicative of a rising sense of individualism in Latin American foreign policy formulation which is no longer dependent on Washington’s preferences.
Our assessment is that the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could make the region, already struggling with multiple conflicts, all the more volatile. We feel that the previous Paraguayan President agreed to shift the embassy in an attempt to appease President Trump. However, we feel that the recent decision to reverse the embassy move is a more grounded approach of Paraguay in dealing with a complex geopolitical issue.