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Colombia recognizes Palestine, sparking fury in Israel

Netanyahu (L) and Santos last year in Colombia. Photo: Juan David Tena/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Colombia's outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos took a secret and dramatic step in his last days in office, it was revealed last night, by recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state. Israel, a longtime ally of Colombia, was kept in the dark and is now furious, demanding the new government in Bogota reverse the decision.

Why it matters: This is a big deal. Colombia was and still is Israel's biggest ally in Latin America, sharing deep military, intelligence and political ties. After President Ivan Duque was elected, Israel discussed with people in his inner circle the possibility of Colombia moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Instead, Colombia recognized Palestine.

How it happened:

  • On August 3rd Colombia's outgoing president Santos made a secret decision to recognize Palestine. On the same day his outgoing foreign minister Maria Holguin wrote a letter to her Palestinian counterpart Riyad Maliki. Santos and Holguin asked the Palestinians to keep the letter secret until after the swearing in of Colombia's new president Ivan Duque.
  • Rumors about Santos' intention to recognize Palestine reached Israeli diplomats several weeks ago. They consulted officials in the outgoing and incoming governments, and both denied such a move was coming.
  • That explains the surprise and fury that emerged as the news broke last night.

The Israeli embassy in Bogota published a strong statement:

"Israel is very surprised and very disappointed by the outgoing Colombian government's decision to recognize Palestine and also by the way the decision was taken, without giving prior notice to a close ally like Israel. The decision to recognize Palestine is a slap in the face for a loyal ally by the outgoing government. We expect the new Colombian government to reverse this decision".

New Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Trujillo attempted some damage control, giving a statement which seemed critical of the previous government and hinting the decision might be changed:

"In view of possible omissions that could arise from the way in which this decision was made by the outgoing president, the government will carefully examine the implications and will act in accordance with international law."

But here's the catch: Outgoing foreign minister Holguin gave an interview last night to Colombian TV and said the outgoing government consulted the new government about the decision to recognize Palestine and got a green light for doing it:

"President Santos spoke with President Duque about recognizing Palestine and Duque told Santos - go ahead. I spoke twice with new foreign minister Trujillo and also got his agreement to this move."

Israel still hopes the new government might change the decision. The spokesman of the Israel's foreign ministry, Emmanuel Nahshon, said: "Israel was surprised by the press reports about Colombia's recognition of Palestine. We are waiting to get clarifications from the new Colombian government who is looking into the matter."

Worth noting: Last Thursday, August 2nd, Israeli prime minister Netanyahu announced he was canceling his trip to Duque's inauguration ceremony. A day later, Santos decided to recognize the state of Palestine. The reason Netanyahu gave for the cancellation was tension in Gaza. There is no indication Netanyahu's cancellation was due to information about the upcoming recognition of Palestine. There is also no indication the recognition was due to the cancellation.

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