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Israel says Paraguay will open an embassy in Jerusalem

The Latin American state would become the fifth country to relocate from Tel Aviv in past five years, following Kosovo, Honduras, Guatemala and US
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (left) with Paraguay's President Santiago Peña (Israeli Foreign Ministry)

Paraguay will move its embassy to Jerusalem by the end of the year, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced on Wednesday.

The announcement by Israel's top diplomat came after he met Paraguay's new president, Santiago Peña, following his inauguration on Tuesday. 

“The opening of the Paraguayan embassy in Jerusalem along with the Israeli embassy in Asunción will strengthen Israel’s regional and international position as well as the important ties between the countries," Cohen said.  

"We will continue and strengthen the important historical connection with the countries of Latin America, which have long stood by the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

If it goes through, the decision to move the embassy would bring to an end a five-year rift between the two countries. 

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In 2018 Paraguay’s then outgoing president, Horatio Cartes, announced that the country’s embassy in Israel would move to Jerusalem, following US President Donald Trump's earlier decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv. 

Just months later, however, Cartes' successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, revoked the decision and moved the embassy back to Tel Aviv, where most international embassies are currently based. 

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The move by Benítez sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries, with Israel announcing the closure of its embassy in the Paraguayan capital, Asunción.

Benítez said at the time that the outgoing president had not consulted him on such a major foreign policy decision and that moving the embassy to Jerusalem meant that the country was moving away from its neutral approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So far there has been no official announcement from Paraguay's new president that he would follow through on his campaign pledge to open the embassy in Jerusalem.

“The State of Israel recognises Jerusalem as its capital,” Peña said in March. “The seat of the parliament is in Jerusalem, the president is in Jerusalem. So who are we to question where they establish their own capital?”

Strengthening Israeli claims on Jerusalem 

For Israel, the transfer of embassies to Jerusalem by its allies is an important political goal that strengthens its claim to the city. 

The state conquered Palestinian East Jerusalem during the 1967 war and formally annexed the occupied territory in 1980, designating the whole city as its capital.

Most countries have refrained from recognising the move and have not relocated their embassies to reflect the annexation, leaving the subject to final status negotiations which would include the city's status.

Palestinian officials hope that the eastern part of the city will one day become their own capital. 

Speaking following his announcement, Cohen said: "We continue to strengthen the international status of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel."

If Peña does open an embassy in Jerusalem it would mean Paraguay is only the fifth country to do so in the past five years, alongside Kosovo, Honduras, Guatemala and the US. 

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