At 10.30 am this morning, Guatemala officially opened its new, unfinished embassy in Jerusalem. This move, which follows the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy two days ago, should hardly come as a surprise: Guatemala’s strong ties with Israel go back to 1948, when it was the second country, similarly behind the U.S., to recognize its statehood.
Jimmy Morales, the Guatemalan President, arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday ahead of today’s ceremony to a rapturous welcome; Jerusalem’s old city walls were even illuminated with the Guatemalan flag and a message thanking Morales for his support.
Morales, a former comedian, repaid his hosts on his Twitter account, declaring today ‘a historic day in the friendship between Guatemala and Israel’. Unsurprisingly, such rhetoric has been matched this week by Netanyahu, who felt ‘moved’ at the sight of Guatemala’s flag flying in Israel’s ‘eternal capital’ after an absence of 38 years.
In 1980, Guatemala pulled its diplomats from Jerusalem after the Knesset announced the controversial Jerusalem Law, which triumphantly declared the city, ‘complete and united’, as Israel’s capital. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 soon denounced this law, which threatened the prospect of peace, and urged member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem in protest.
Almost half a century on, Guatemala’s new position can be seen as both a parroting of U.S. foreign policy and as a chance to strengthen relations with Israel, from which it buys most of its arms. Angelina Solis, Guatemala’s ambassador to Israel, hailed her country’s decision to return to Jerusalem as a ‘brave’ and ‘historic’ and revealed her belief that ‘a lot of blessings will come after this decision’. Since Guatemala has one of the highest percentages of evangelic Christians in the world, many of her countrymen will agree with her pro-Israeli sentiments.
The timing of this week’s embassy inaugurations is not coincidental. Placed during the week that Palestinian marks the 70th anniversary of Nakba, the cataclysmic exodus which followed the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, both openings are an attempt to divert the international community’s attention. The tragic deaths of unarmed citizens in Gaza this week have prevented this from happening and have highlighted the brutality of the Israeli occupation to a global audience.