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The Palestinians Come to Latin America

10:40 AM, Feb 21, 2011 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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The Washington Post recently reported on the successful Palestinian drive to achieve statehood recognition from South American countries. Over the past few months, several countries—including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay—have endorsed the existence of an independent Palestinian country. (In years past, Palestine had garnered official recognition from Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.)

The Palestinians Come to Latin America

To a casual observer, the wave of recognition may seem like a spontaneous outburst. In fact, there was nothing spontaneous about it. The flurry of diplomatic activity represents the culmination of a robust Palestinian lobbying push that was blessed and encouraged by former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, who left office on January 1 but spent much of late 2010 fomenting support for Palestinian statehood. Lula had avid enablers in Argentine president Cristina Kirschner and her foreign minister, the controversial Héctor Timerman.

Next month, Costa Rica will host a “Forum for Peace in the Middle East” led by its erstwhile president, Oscar Arias, and also by Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernández. (Arias, incidentally, is now being investigated in connection with his brother’s alleged misuse of public funds during his 2006–2010 government.) One of the individuals helping to organize and promote the event is Hasan Abdel Rahman, a PLO operative who served as Palestinian “ambassador” to the U.S. from 1994 to 2005. We should also note that there are unanswered questions as to who is really bankrolling the forum, and to what end.

At a time when the Middle East is being rocked by popular protests and calls for democracy, it seems bizarre for Latin American figures to be focusing attention on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict—unless we consider the Palestinian lobbying campaign. That campaign appears to have caught both Israel and the U.S. off guard. No surprise there. Israel has been neglecting Latin America at times (after being very involved in the region—and receiving critical diplomatic support from Latin American governments—during its early history). Meanwhile, the Obama administration has largely abdicated any type of leadership role in the Western Hemisphere. The leadership vacuum has been filled by a variety of forces, many of them inimical to U.S. and Israeli interests. (Iran’s growing hemispheric presence is the most obvious—and troubling—example of this phenomenon.) It’s time for a change of strategy in Washington and Jerusalem.

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