Wed, Jan 12, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Palestinian ‘state’ finds sympathetic ear in S America


Five South American nations have recognized Palestinian statehood in recent weeks, and several more are expected to do so soon.

The Palestinians are increasingly lobbying nations for recognition as leverage toward an elusive peace deal with Israel, and they are finding a sympathetic ear in South America — a region with long-standing cultural ties, diplomatic alliances and increasing trade with the Arab world.

Brazil started the trend with its recognition on Dec. 3, then put trade with Arab nations squarely on the regional agenda when it hosted last month’s summit of the Mercosur economic bloc. These relationships also should be on full display at a wider South American-Arab summit next month in Lima, Peru.

But while securing foreign investment is a top priority for South America’s leaders, they also have other reasons for following Brazil’s lead.

“Obviously we’re interested in more investments, but to think that because there’s a bigger investment or a new Arabic investment it’s going to define a foreign policy, it seems to me that this is to underestimate the independence, the judgment and the seriousness of the foreign policies of the countries of South America,” Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said.

Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia sided with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month by not only endorsing statehood but insisting on borders predating the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel seized large swaths of territory held by Palestinians. After consulting with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera also decided to recognize Palestinian statehood on Friday. However, Chile’s position was studiously neutral, avoiding the border question and urging both sides to keep negotiating.

Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said on Monday that the issue “has to be worked out between Israel and Palestine,” along with other questions ranging from water rights to security to the handling of refugees.

Venezuela previously recognized an independent Palestine in 2005, and Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru are also considering whether to join the more than 100 nations that have done so.

Chile and Argentina have their own reasons for their border stances.

Recognizing pre-1967 borders for a Palestinian state could undermine Chile’s own refusal to cede territory it won from Peru and Bolivia in 1879. Both countries still actively campaign for rights to this territory, and Peru’s case is pending before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Argentina, meanwhile, sees itself as the victim of an illegal land seizure — Britain’s control of the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas and still claims despite losing a disastrous war over the archipelago in 1982. The Palestinians have long supported the position Argentina raises in nearly every international forum: that Britain violates UN agreements by refusing to negotiate the islands’ sovereignty.

Cultural ties are also key. Brazil and Paraguay have sizable Lebanese populations, Syrians are prominent in Argentina and Chile’s Palestinian community, about 400,000 strong, is among the largest outside the Middle East.

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