JERUSALEM/NEW YORK—‘’Israel views with utmost gravity the extraordinary decision by Paraguay which will cloud bilateral relations,’’ said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he reacted to the announcement by Paraguay that it would move its newly opened embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.
‘’Israel shutters diplomatic doors in Paraguay after it moves embassy back to Tel Aviv,’’ Netanyahu added.
In May, Paraguay announced that it would follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s lead and relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, becoming the third country to do so after Guatemala and the United States.
Former President Horacio Cartes personally inaugurated the embassy opening. Netanyahu at the time called the decision a “bold stance in international affairs.”
Cartes was not eligible for reelection in April, which was won by co-party member Mario Abdo Benítez,, who said that he was not consulted regarding the embassy move. Abdo is the grandson of a Lebanese immigrant.
However, the new elected president of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez, who took office in August, decided to reverse course after reviewing the decision by his predecessor.
In a new conference, Parguay’s Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni said he hoped “the friends of Israel will not be bothered” by the decision.
“Paraguay wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East,” he said.
The reversal was apparently influenced by the Palestinians.
Riyad al-Maliki, Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, said that he had pushed the new Paraguay administration to change course, calling it a “new Palestinian diplomatic achievement.”
“Minister Maliki exerted a big effort during his meeting with the new president who instructed his foreign minister to arrange the issue,” said the P.A. foreign ministry.
Ironically, Paraguay’s decision came two days after Colombia’s new President Ivan Duque said that he would not reverse a decision made in the final days of his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos to recognize “Palestine.”
In a radio interview, Duque said he would have liked to have had more debate on the issue, but that he is respectful of decisions made by leaders before their terms expire.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called Paraguay’s decision ‘’deeply regrettable and disappointing.”
“Paraguay has always been a steadfast supporter of the State of Israel, and it is extremely concerning to witness the unnecessary strain in ties between two historically strong friends.”
“We profoundly hope that the two countries will be able to mend the rift that this decision has created and resume their crucial diplomatic relationship within the international arena,” Lauder said.
The American Jewish Committee called the decision by Paraguay “shocking.”
“This diplomatic reversal is shocking,” said Dina Siegel Vann, AJC Director of Latino and Latin American Affairs. “Paraguay has long been a leader among Latin American nations in advancing cooperative relations with Israel. Opening the Paraguayan Embassy in Jerusalem was indicative of that support.”
“To suddenly reverse the historic decision less than four months later raises a number of questions, including who exerted pressure on Paraguay to do so. It cannot be a coincidence that as Paraguay announces this decision, the Palestinian Authority celebrates and declares it will open an ‘embassy’ in Asunción.”