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Israel Fumes, Palestinians Celebrate Paraguay’s Decision to Move Jerusalem Embassy Back to Tel Aviv

Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez attends the commemoration of Children's Day on his first day as president at the government palace in Asuncion on August 16, 2018. - Mario Abdo Benitez took office Wednesday as Paraguay's new president, four months after playing down close family ties with the South American …
NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/Getty

TEL AVIV – Paraguay will move its embassy back to Tel Aviv, the country’s foreign minister announced on Wednesday, less than four months after it followed the U.S.’s lead and relocated it to Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a scathing condemnation of the reversal, and called for Israel’s embassy in Asuncion to be shuttered.

“Israel views with extreme gravity the unusual decision by Paraguay that will cast a cloud over relations between the countries,” a statement from his office said.

Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni defended the move by telling reporters that his country “wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

The Palestinian Authority responded by saying it would “immediately” open an embassy in Paraguay, according to a statement later that day by Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

Maliki said the reversal resulted from his lobbying and marked “a new Palestinian diplomatic achievement.” PA President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the move as “courageous.”

Former Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes took the decision to relocate to Jerusalem before wrapping up his five-year tenure. His successor, Mario Abdo, who is the grandson of a Lebanese immigrant, claimed he was not consulted on the move.

The issue of Jerusalem is one of the “most complex components” of the conflict, Castiglioni’s ministry said in a statement. “Paraguay considers that it has to be addressed through negotiations by the concerned parties, within the framework of the relevant international organizations’ decisions,” the statement continued.

“Paraguay considers appropriate to reestablish the headquarters of its Embassy to the State of Israel,” the statement said.

It concluded that “Paraguay reaffirms its willingness to maintain excellent ties of friendship and cooperation with the State of Israel and Palestine, based on shared principles and values.”

In May, the mood was vastly different, with Netanyahu pledging that going forward, Israeli-Paraguayan cooperation would “flow like water.”

The relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem was “a great day for Israel, a great day for Paraguay, and a great day for our friendship,” the prime minister said in his address at the inauguration.

At the time, Cartes said the new opening “expresses the sincere friendship and brave solidarity” between the two countries.

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat welcomed Wednesday’s reversal: “We commend Paraguay’s decision to act in accordance with its obligations under international law by closing its embassy in Jerusalem and relocating it to Tel Aviv,” he said in a statement. “President Abdo’s courageous decision shows that the government of Asunción has chosen to go back to the traditional Latin American position of respect for international law and UN resolutions.”

Erekat also urged Guatemala, which became the second country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, to stand on the right side of history. “This is also time for [President Donald] Trump’s administration to realize that no peace-loving country will follow their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” he added. “Only respecting international law and UN resolutions will help to achieve a just and lasting peace.”

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