Similar to the U.S. Embassy inauguration, the Guatemalan event brought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prominent international supporters of Israel, including GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and a smattering of evangelical leaders.
Although the Guatemalan affair was more low-key by comparison — its new office was barely big enough to host all the guests — the move brought with it another layer of tension amid diplomatic confrontations with a growing list of countries.
Leading the charge was Turkey, which on Tuesday expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul. Israel retaliated with its own expulsions of top Turkish diplomats.
On Wednesday, the crisis between the two states appeared to be deepening. Israel’s departing ambassador, Eitan Na’eh, received an uncustomary search at Istanbul airport in an apparent attempt at public humiliation, including being forced to take off his shoes. Members of the Turkish media were invited to witness the event.
“This is an inappropriate treatment of Israeli Ambassador Eitan Na’eh,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded in a statement. It summoned the Turkish diplomat hours later and invited journalists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu had already exchanged insults on Twitter after Monday’s chaos along Gaza’s border fence with Israel, which has blockaded the coastal enclave, along with Egypt, for more than a decade.
Israeli troops ended up killing some 60 people and wounding thousands during the protests along the Israel-Gaza border. Israel and the United States have claimed the protests are engineered by Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip. Palestinians, who have dubbed the protests the “Great March of Return,” say they want to return to lands taken when Israel was created 70 years ago.
Israel has said a significant number of those killed were members of various militant Islamist factions in the Gaza Strip, using the mass demonstrations as cover to infiltrate into Israel and carry out possible terrorist attacks.
In Europe, several E.U. nations summoned Israeli ambassadors to express concern over what many view as excessive force by Israeli troops against unarmed Palestinian civilians.
“Lethal force may only be used as a measure of last, not first, resort, and only when there is an immediate threat to life or serious injury,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, in a statement.
On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the killings in Gaza “a massacre” and blamed both Israel and the United States. On Tuesday, he recalled Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador in Washington.
More moves came Wednesday with the Palestinian Authority calling back ambassadors in Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria — all E.U. members that have expressed an interest in opening embassies in Jerusalem.
Palestinians were furious the ambassadors of those countries attended an event Sunday organized by Israel’s Foreign Ministry to honor the U.S. move to Jerusalem. Palestinians hope to gain part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
“Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem was not only a hostile act against the people of Palestine as we mourn 70 years of ‘nakba,’ but is as well a violation of international law,” said Amal Jadou, deputy minister for European affairs in the Palestinian foreign ministry. Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, is a term used for the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians upon Israel’s creation.
None of the diplomatic fallout appeared to dampen the celebrations Wednesday at the new Guatemalan Embassy, however.
Speaking at the event, which did not have open media coverage, Netanyahu said it was not a coincidence Guatemala was the second country to open its embassy in Jerusalem, after the United States.
“It’s not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You are always among the first, always among the first,” he said, referring to Guatemala’s role in lobbying for Israel’s establishment in the 1940s.
Guatemalan lawmaker Marcos Fernando Yax said most people in his country believed this was the right thing to do. In Guatemala, a significant number of people are Catholic or evangelical. “They support this move by Morales,” he said.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, he added, was a separate, internal issue.