Argentina latest in Latin America to recognize Palestinian state

The move follows Brazil days earlier, though some Jewish leaders say they worry about a copycat phenomenon that could be 'counter-productive' to the peace process.

Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
Palestinians walk past the Brazilian (r.) and the Argentinean (l.) flags hanging on a shop in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Dec. 7. Argentina is the latest in Latin America to recognize an independent Palestinian state, just days after Brazil.

Jewish leaders in Latin America are questioning the merits of Argentina's decision on Monday to recognize an independent Palestinian nation within the borders that prevailed before 1967's Six Day War, just days after Brazil made a similar announcement.

While Palestinian leaders have welcomed the announcements and said it will help push forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Sergio Widder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Latin America says the recognition is counterproductive to peace talks.

“This was surprising for the Jewish community in Argentina,” Mr. Widder says in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. “I do not understand why a third party like Argentina or Brazil is going beyond what the two parties are discussing.”

Argentina, however, said the reason was simple: frustration over the slow pace of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“The time has come to recognize Palestine as a free and independent state [within its 1967 borders],” Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told reporters Monday in Buenos Aires.

He added that Argentina, which has Latin America’s biggest Jewish population of 230,000 people, "ratifies its irrevocable position in favor of the right of Israel to be recognized by everyone and to live in peace and security within its borders.”

Recognition diplomacy has long been a factor in international affairs. Whether involving diplomats from East Timor traveling the globe asking nations to refuse to recognize the annexation of the tiny territory during Indonesia's 23-year occupation or the disputed territory of Kosovo, which has only been recognized as an independent state by about 40 percent of UN members, aspiring nation's covet international recognition.

What it means

While Brazil and Argentina's steps are largely symbolic for now, if enough UN members step forward and unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders, Israel's position in East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- already viewed as illegally occupied by most UN members -- would become less tenable. And from an Israeli perspective, that kind of back-up makes it less likely that the Palestinians will compromise on the contours of an eventual state.

Soon after Argentina made its announcement, Uruguay said it would recognize Palestinian statehood within the next year. The moves followed a letter by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the Palestine government late last month also recognizing the state of Palestine based on pre-1967 borders.

Palestinian officials praised the announcements. "I think it is an important step taken by two important countries in Latin America," Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States, says in a phone interview. "But I think the more significant aspect is the manifestations of certain countries within the international community who are reaching the point where they want to see some practical steps to end the conflict."

Riad Malki, the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, also hailed the move. “It is really symbolic, but it is important because the more countries that recognize the Palestinian state, the more pressure this will put on countries that are hesitant on the peace process. If Israel keeps refusing to recognize the Palestinian state when other countries do, this will make a difference,” Mr. Malki told the Associated Press.

Malki said he next expected recognition of Palestinian statehood from Uruguay and Paraguay, followed by Bolivia and Ecuador.

"Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011," Uruguay's Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde told Agence France-Press. "We are working towards opening a diplomatic representation in Palestine, most likely in Ramallah."

Israel's Foreign Ministry has called Argentina's decision "highly regrettable," joining Jewish leaders in the US who say the move could undermine peace talks.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), says such moves by Latin American "unilaterally prejudges issues intended to be decided by the parties themselves in direct talks."

“There is concern that there can be a copycat phenomenon [in Latin America],” Mr. Harris says by telephone. “If the Palestinian Authority hears a growing drumbeat, with important players like Brazil and Argentina who support a clearly defined Palestinian state absent a negotiated agreement then that contributes to the dynamic in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and it does so unconstructively.”

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