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December 28, 2017 1:48 pm

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Stands Firm Against Arab Boycott Threat Over Jerusalem Embassy Move

avatar by Ben Cohen


Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said the country would stand firm against Arab boycott threats. Photo: Reuters TV.

Guatemala’s top diplomat shrugged off threats of an Arab boycott of her country on Thursday, affirming that the central American nation stood by its decision announced earlier this week to join the United States in moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In an interview with The Algemeiner, Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said that while the boycott threat from the PLO and Arab countries had been duly noted, it was being viewed in Guatemala mainly as a “media scare tactic.”

“This tactic is being used in the media by a small group with special interests who are opposed to our decision to move our embassy,” Jovel said. “But we’ve been strong in that decision, we trust that it was the correct decision, and we will continue to stand by it.”

While Guatemala and Israel have always retained close diplomatic and political ties, the country of 17 million also enjoys a strong trading relationship with the Arab world. Of particular concern is Guatemala’s vital cardamom crop, exported to the Middle East for use in the Arabic coffee that is consumed across the region. Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest importer of cardamom — receives 94 percent of its supply from Guatemala, the world’s largest producer of the spice.

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On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said he would be pushing for a boycott of those countries that announced an embassy move to Jerusalem following the UN General Assembly’s Dec. 21 condemnation of the Trump administration’s original decision. In a separate statement, the PLO described Guatemala’s decision as a “shameful and illegal act that goes totally against the wishes of church leaders in Jerusalem.”

Jovel made a point of not responding to the PLO’s angry rhetoric in kind, noting merely that “they have a right to their opinion.

“We respect that,” the foreign minister said. “And we expect them to respect our sovereign diplomatic position just as we respect theirs.”

Jovel underlined that Guatemala was committed to protecting the country’s 45,000 cardamom farmers. In 1994, the threat of just such an Arab boycott forced the country to back down on an earlier pledge to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but now, she argued, Guatemala was protected from a trade embargo by World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations introduced since that time. Under WTO rules “to provide security and predictability to the multilateral trading system,” Guatemala would have a powerful case to make through the global organization’s “dispute settlement system” for quarreling member states.

“We expect them to honor their agreements just as we will honor ours,” Jovel said.

She added that Guatemala was expanding its cooperation with Israel in the health, education and agriculture sectors. “These have always been areas where Israel has helped Guatemala with technology and development as the needs of our country have evolved,” Jovel said.

Jovel portrayed the decision to move Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem as the natural outcome of the country’s 70-year record of standing alongside Israel in the diplomatic arena — a reputation that originated with the late Guatemalan diplomat Jorge García-Granados, who was a member of the 1947 UN commission that recommended the partition of the British Mandate for Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. In November of that year, García-Granados cast the first vote recognizing Israel’s legitimacy when the UN decided in favor of the partition plan.

“Since Israel’s creation, we have played an active role in supporting and recognizing Israel as a nation,” Jovel said. “The decision announced by President (Jimmy) Morales to move our embassy to Jerusalem is completely consistent with the policies we have maintained for the past seventy years in favor of Israel.”

Jovel spoke proudly of Guatemala’s tradition of voting alongside Israel at the UN, where the Jewish state remains the single most popular target of opprobrium. She disclosed that “some countries” were thinking of following the Guatemalan example, and that some Guatemalan representatives had held meetings with their counterparts in that regard.

“Some countries have approached us, and we have also made our own approaches, to educate and inform them on our policy toward Israel,” Jovel said. “This is a policy that we will continue to maintain.”

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