In the last two months, the world has witnessed a wave of diplomatic support for a Palestinian state from a region that is continuing to extend its foreign policy imprint: Latin America. But will this trend yield any measurable progress toward a two-state Palestinian-Israeli agreement—or produce a negligible effect on Palestine’s quest for full autonomy and sovereignty?
Although Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela fully recognized a sovereign Palestinian state before the end of last year, Brazil’s decision to throw its diplomatic weight behind Palestine in December 2010 initiated a chain reaction through the region. Given Brazil’s economic prominence, its South American neighbors likely saw low political risks in following Brasília’s lead. For instance, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent a letter to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas only five days after then-Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva did so. Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and Uruguay have since issued similar statements.
After Chile formally recognized a Palestinian state earlier this month, Palestinian officials suggested Paraguay and Peru would shortly follow suit—the latter of which acquiesced this week. Peru was widely expected to acknowledge a Palestinian state in anticipation of the third Summit of South American-Arab Countries (Cumbre América del Sur-Países Árabes), which will be hosted in Lima beginning February 12.
This domino effect begs the question: Why now? The Palestine Liberation Organization was established back in 1964 and Abbas has been the PA president for over six years—so there has not been a recent regime change. Most likely, it appears that Latin America was simply fed up with the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Despite the optimism that persisted in September 2010 with the re-launching of the first direct talks since the 2007 Annapolis Conference, those negotiations quickly broke off—resulting in the present stasis.
The Argentine government officially recognized Palestine as a free and independent state, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said on Monday. In a letter to the president of the National Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recognized Palestine’s borders as they were defined in 1967, before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza during the Arab-Israeli War. Argentina’s announcement follows a similar statement of recognition made by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Relations last Friday.
Only months after Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed over settlement issues, Argentina and Brazil’s statements were drew both praise and condemnation. The Palestine Liberation Organization said the support from the South American powers sends a message of respect for international law and against colonialism. The Israel government, on the other hand, condemned the recognition of Palestine as deceiving, lamentable and counterproductive to peace negotiations.
Several Middle Eastern nations have been working to build stronger diplomatic ties with Latin America. Perhaps the best example is the relationship between Brazil and Iran which is centered on energy cooperation. Uruguay, a sovereign member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, has publicly announced its plans to recognize Palestine in early 2011. However, Israel remains a key partner for Latin America, and is the first non-Latin American nation to sign a free-trade agreement with Mercosur.
Mexico warned Israel of possible United Nations Security Council action if they continued to block humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza only hours after assuming the UN body’s rotating presidency at midnight on June 1. In a carefully crafted statement released yesterday, the council president, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, condemned Israel’s actions against the Turkish aid flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of at least nine civilians and dozens other injured, and called for an impartial investigation of the operation. The council also requested the immediate release of ships and civilians held by Israel.
More aid ships are expected to attempt to reach Gaza today while Israel remains steadfast to keep ships from crossing their blockade. Israel’s Defense Vice Minister Matan Vilnaí declared that the blockade would stand despite widespread condemnation of their actions on May 31. The aid ships have been docked in Ashdod Port in southern Israel and Israeli authorities began transporting the ship’s humanitarian cargo to Gaza as of Tuesday afternoon.
Mexico assumed the presidency of the 15-nation Security Council as it held closed door meetings to discuss a response to the Israeli action. The previous Council presidency was held by Lebanon, which called the meeting on May 31, just before the expiration of their month-long presidency term. The UN Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security in the world at large and this month marks Mexico’s second term as president since rotating into the council for its two-year term. Mexico last held the presidency of the Security Council in April 2009.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday in the latest of a series of meetings with Middle Eastern leaders. In an effort to expand his country’s role as a peacemaker, Lula also hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres for a four-day visit to Brazil last week.
Peres invited the South American leader to join the Middle East peace process in the first visit by an Israeli president to Brazil in 40 years. Abbas also welcomed Brazil’s participation in negations with Israel. Lula agreed to be an instrument in the peace process and stepped head-first into one of the region’s many contentious issues, with a statement that Brazil "understands that any new settlement in Palestinian territory should immediately be halted."
Just as Brazil begins to further engage the region, Lula said the United States has no place as a broker in Middle East peace talks. “As long as the United States is trying to negotiate peace, there won’t be peace…” he said and went on to emphasize the need for the United Nations to oversee negotiations.
Also on the Middle Eastern front, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will land in Brazil next week as part of a tour that also includes visits to Bolivia and Venezuela. Much of the international community has condemned Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but Lula has been a vocal proponent of Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy. It is an open question whether Lula’s controversial visit with the rogue leader could rift U.S.-Brazilian relations or tarnish his reputation in the international community.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.