Middle East Monitor / July 11, 2023
Deputy Director General for Latin America and the Caribbean at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonathan Peled said in an event hosted by the Wilson Center in Washington that Israel “today is to ensure, convince, and persuade governments in Latin America that the relationship with Israel is not a zero-sum game.”
Peled clarified how Israel’s influence and reach extends well beyond its immediate region and “nowhere is that more true than in the Americas.” He said that Latin American countries were the “most important force” in supporting the creation of Israel and described support for Israel on the continent as “a matter of faith” for many in the region.
Peled described Israel´s longstanding and historic friendship with the Western Hemisphere where there are “many Jewish communities and a vast array of economic and commercial agreements and technology cooperation.” He continued: “You can be pro-Palestinian, pro-Arab … that shouldn’t be a detriment to the relationship with Israel.”
In fact, Israel’s relations with the states of Latin America dates back to even before the creation of the nascent state. Today Israel maintains full diplomatic relations with all the countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean region, except Cuba and Venezuela. These relations are reflected in political, economic and cultural cooperation, as well as in a great number of bilateral agreements in many fields.
“In fact, there is a long relationship of friendship between our nations. When the UN General Assembly voted to partition the territory of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1947, more than half of the Latin American member nations voted in favour of creating Israel,” Peled said.
In 2007, Israel was quick to sign a framework agreement with MERCOSUR, an established economic market that promotes free trade between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay which together made up 76 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Latin America. Israel was the first country outside South America to sign a free trade agreement with the bloc, which gave tangible advantages to Israeli companies. “For Israel, of course, nothing much happens by coincidence. Israel is aware of South America’s importance to its own national interests. The agreement with MERCOSUR included trade valued at around $1.1 billion at that time. All Israeli industrial and agricultural products sold to MERCOSUR countries were exempt from customs duties,” Brazil’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim, previously told MEMO.
Speaking alongside Peled at the Wilson Centre was Guatemala’s Ambassador to the US, Alfonso Quinonez. Guatemala recognized the state of Israel three days after it was established in May 1948, and the other Latin American countries followed suit in 1948 and 1949.
While Uruguay was the first South American country to formally recognize Israel, Argentina was the first to open an embassy in Tel Aviv.
Following Argentina and Guatemala, Paraguay was the third country to have an embassy in Israel, with Honduras following.
Latin American states have continued to show much support for the Palestinian cause, which Israel is working to erode in an effort to build a base for itself but also weaken the Palestinians both at home and in international forums.
Eman Abusidu is MEMO’s correspondent in Brazil