Why are so many South American countries recognizing the Palestinian state?

The Palestinian foreign ministry has announced that in the coming months, Chile and Paraguay will join the growing number of countries in Latin America recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.  Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Venezuela have all announced support for a Palestinian state in rapid succession in the last month. The LA Times‘ Daniel Hernandez writes:

On Saturday, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera met one-on-one with Abbas in Brazil during the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil’s first female president. Abbas attended the inauguration in Brasilia to “thank the presidents” that have recognized the Palestinian state, reported the Chilean daily La Tercera.

Chile is home to a significant population of about 350,000 mostly Christian Palestinians. Like many of its neighbors, Chile also has a large Jewish community. A Jewish leader in Chile called the decisions to recognize a Palestinian state “imprudent”.

The declarations have confounded Israel, as none of the South American countries have been directly involved in U.S.-led peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Those negotiations remain deadlocked.

The Palestinian Authority also plans to open an embassy in Ecuador soon, and Pinera plans to visit the West Bank in three months.

As blogger Greg Weeks notes, the interesting thing about this development is that it appears to be uncoordinated. As none of these countries have really involved themselves heavily in Israeli-Palestinian politics before, it’s hard not to read this in the context of U.S.-South American relations and Brazil’s rising influence. Uruguay was actually the first in the latest wave of Palestinian recognition, but the snowball really starting rolling after Brazil’s announcemnt on Dec. 3, one of former President Lula da Silva’s last acts in office.

Under Lula, Brazil has become an increasingly important player in Mideast politics, often taking positions directly at odds with U.S. policy. But the fact that governments ranging on the political spectrum from Sebastian Pinera’s Chile to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela have been so quick to follow Brazil’s lead on a political gesture guaranteed to annoy Washington, is a pretty good sign of where power is shifting on the continent.

The country to watch here is Colombia, traditionally staunchly pro-American, but increasingly, under President Juan Manuel Santos, willing to reach out to regional rivals. If Colombia signs on to supporting the Palestinian state — they’ve been silent so far — the Lula-Amorim foreign-policy legacy is going to start looking pretty impressive.


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