SAO PAULO, Brazil: Chile’s announcement that it will open an embassy in Palestine, and Brazil’s new government abandoning its predecessor’s pro-Israel foreign policy, have raised hopes in Latin America about changes in regional stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Just one day after left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office on Jan. 1, Brazil announced a radical shift in its diplomacy.
New Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira mentioned the Palestinian issue in his inauguration speech, saying Brazil will “resume its traditional and balanced stance kept for over seven decades” and support the solution of two states “completely viable, safely coexisting side by side with internationally recognized borders.”
Latin America has been sharply divided over Israel and Palestine for most of the past half-century.
Conservative regimes focused on shared Judeo-Christian values, trade relations and military cooperation with Israel, while the left espoused nationalism, anti-colonialism, the struggle for freedom, and a shared history with the Palestinian diaspora.
On Jan. 5, during a UN Security Council meeting to discuss Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Brazil’s delegation said the act was “profoundly alarming” and could increase violence in the region.
That was a major transformation in Brazilian policy given that rightwing former President Jair Bolsonaro was a staunch ally of Israel and even planned to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He abandoned the idea after protests from Arab countries that jeopardized Brazilian trade with the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Brazil’s new diplomacy was proclaimed just a fortnight after Chile’s left-wing President Gabriel Boric disclosed his plan to transform his nation’s representative office in the Palestinian city of Ramallah into an embassy.
He revealed his intention during a Christmas celebration on Dec. 21 at Club Deportivo Palestino, a social sports organization created by Palestinian immigrants in 1920.
For years, communities in Latin America have come together to denounce Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
The strong solidarity with Palestine on the continent has put pressure on governments to denounce Israel’s actions.
Chile has the world’s largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, comprising an estimated 500,000 people.
“We can’t forget a community that’s suffering from an illegal occupation, a community that’s resisting, a community that’s having its rights and its dignity violated every day, and that this is absolutely unfair,” Boric said
The following day, Chile’s Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola reaffirmed the embassy plan but did not provide a timeline.
Experts see Boric’s decision as an invitation to other Latin American countries to follow suit. “That was not only an action aiming to intensify relations between both countries (Chile and Palestine) and to fully recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, it was also a gesture that can be imitated by other regional leaders,” Palestinian-Chilean political analyst Jaime Abedrapo told Arab News.
He said Chile’s Foreign Ministry had been gradually advancing toward such a plan over the years, and broad segments of society support Boric’s announcement, including right-wing politicians.
“We must emphasize that the Chilean-Jewish community recognized the measure’s legitimacy,” Abedrapo added.
In his opinion, the fact that Brazil is adhering again to Lula’s agenda for the Middle East is greatly relevant given the country’s importance in Latin America.
Palestinian diaspora in Latin America:
• 500k in Chile.
• 250k in Honduras.
• 200k in Guatemala.
• 70k in El Salvador.
• 70k in Brazil.
The election of Lula and other left-wingers on the continent is seen as an auspicious moment for the adoption of measures that could benefit the Palestinian people.
“Why did Boric announce his plan now? Because there are propitious conditions for it,” Ualid Rabah, president of the Palestinian Arab Federation of Brazil, told Arab News. “Even before Lula took office, his political stance on Palestine and Israel had already impacted the Latin American diplomatic scenario.”
Rabah compares the current situation with 2010, when then-President Lula recognized the State of Palestine along the 1967 borders. Other Latin American countries followed suit.
“Boric had the political sensibility to realize that and to take action,” Rabah said, expressing his belief that Lula will consolidate policies that he launched during his two tenures (between 2003 and 2010) and that were frozen afterward.
They include four cooperation agreements signed between Brazil and Palestine in 2010 concerning free trade, education, culture and technology.
“Those deals were obstructed by extremists, including Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro (Jair Bolsonaro’s son), during the process in Congress,” Rabah said. “We had to work hard to see them approved now. I’m sure Lula will ratify them.”
Such agreements will increase the exchange of people and goods between the two countries and strengthen their relationship.
Chileans and Brazilians involved with the Palestinian cause wish to see more progress in the next few years.
Abedrapo said he is hoping for “coherent and consistent steps,” including the establishment of a Chilean Embassy in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. “That would have a great symbolic impact,” he added.
Rabah said he and other activists are pressing Brazil’s government to assume “a clear voice against (Israeli) apartheid in Palestine.”
He added: “We want the Brazilian government to cut ties with Israeli companies and institutions directly or indirectly involved in the invasion of territories in Palestine, for instance.”
But Reginaldo Nasser, a foreign relations professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, said although Boric’s and Lula’s measures will bring progress, hoping for great transformations now is unrealistic.
“Lula had an ambiguous relationship with Palestine, given that during his earlier administrations he promoted important initiatives for Palestinians but also intensified his country’s relations with Israel,” Nasser told Arab News, adding that real change “requires more than symbolic measures.”
He said: “Brazil bases its diplomacy on international law, but Israel goes far beyond that and places settlers to dominate a region.”
In Nasser’s opinion, Brazil’s government should understand that there is no symmetry between Palestine and Israel but a situation of colonialism.
“If Brazilian policies don’t take that into consideration, nothing can really change. Brazil will remain acting like Israel’s partner,” he said, adding that pro-Israel pressure will be strong in Brazil, and Latin America as a whole, if more steps are taken.
“The costs of going against Israel’s policies are high. That’s why Palestinians have been alone for so long in the international arena,” Nasser said.