Paraguay changed its mind on Jerusalem. Israel reacted swiftly
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Paraguay changed its mind on Jerusalem. Israel reacted swiftly

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the closure of Israel's embassy in Paraguay, hours after the Latin American nation's new government announced it would move its embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.

The surprising move is contrary to the push started by the United States to move embassies to Jerusalem in recognition of it as the capital of the Israeli state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with then Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes in Jerusalem in May.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with then Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes in Jerusalem in May.

Photo: AP

Most countries do not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire city and say its final status should be set in peace talks.

Paraguay's foreign minister called Israel's reaction "disproportionate". Paraguay President Mario Abdo defended his decision as part of an effort to support "broad, lasting and just peace" among Israelis and Palestinians.

"Paraguay is a country of principles," Abdo, who took office last month, said on Twitter.

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Abdo belongs to the same conservative party as his predecessor Horacio Cartes, who inaugurated Paraguay's new embassy in Jerusalem in May.

Paraguay's new President Mario Abdo Benitez, flanked by his wife Silvana Lopez, at his inauguration in Asuncion, last month.

Paraguay's new President Mario Abdo Benitez, flanked by his wife Silvana Lopez, at his inauguration in Asuncion, last month.

Photo: AP

The Palestinians said their foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, met Abdo two weeks ago and hailed Paraguay's change of mind as "a new Palestinian diplomatic achievement".

"Minister Maliki exerted a big effort during his meeting with the new president who instructed his foreign minister to arrange the issue," the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Israel acted swiftly after the news broke and a statement in English from the Prime Minister's office said: "Israel views with utmost gravity the extraordinary decision by Paraguay which will cloud bilateral relations."

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after the 1967 war, as its capital.

But the Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem for the capital of a future state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Negotiations between the two sides broke down in 2014.

US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump attends the opening ceremony of the new American embassy in Jerusalem.

US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump attends the opening ceremony of the new American embassy in Jerusalem.

Photo: AP

In December, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, reversing decades of US policy and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies. The United States opened a new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14. Guatemala and then Paraguay followed.

Netanyahu has attempted to persuade other countries to also do so.

On Wednesday while meeting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Netanyahu said: "I appreciate your decision to open an honorary consulate in Jerusalem, and I hope, I hope, I hope it's the first step towards establishing the Bulgarian embassy in Jerusalem."

Reuters