Colombia’s move to cut ties with Israel could have a regional domino effect

Colombia has become the second South American country to sever ties with Israel over the war on Gaza.

At a meeting on Wednesday in the capital Bogota, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced he would cut ties with Israel from May 2, after months of tension between them.

Tomorrow “we will sever diplomatic relations with the State of Israel because it has a government, a president that is genocidal,” Petro told a cheering crowd gathered to mark International Workers’ Day.

Petro said Columbia cannot passively watch a “genocide” and “extermination of an entire people.”

“If Palestine dies, humanity dies,” he added.

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Not a surprising move

Petro has never minced his words when it comes to Israel, as he has publicly proclaimed a strong pro-Palestinian narrative in recent months.

In March, he threatened to cut ties with Israel if the country did not comply with the United Nations’ call for a ceasefire.

The ongoing war in Gaza has played a major role Petro’s X-profileperhaps the president’s favorite platform to express his views.

“Petro has positioned himself as the champion of the oppressed, the underdog”

– Elizabeth Dickinson, International Crisis Group

Since October, Petro’s constant stream of tweets on the subject has sparked controversy, drawing criticism for his perceived lack of diplomatic finesse. He has consistently called for a ceasefire, openly criticized the Israeli government for its actions – controversially equating the Israeli army with the Nazis – and spoken against the numerous attacks and violations throughout Palestine.

“Petro’s announcement that he will cut ties with Israel comes after months of tensions and outspoken statements, so it is – in that sense – no surprise. As a politician, Petro has repeatedly positioned himself as a champion of the oppressed, the underdog,” Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst for Colombia at the International Crisis Group, told Middle East Eye.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz responded to Petro’s decision on

‘Moral defeat’ for Israel

Cutting ties with Israel is the strongest action the Colombian president has taken since the war broke out last October.

In late October, Petro recalled the Colombian ambassador to Israel, shortly after announcing that the country would open an embassy in Palestine. Honduras and Chile also recalled their ambassadors.

In February, Colombia decided to suspend the purchase of Israeli weapons after an Israeli attack on Palestinians waiting for aid. Subsequently, in early April, the Colombian government submitted a formal request to the International Court of Justice to join South Africa’s case, accusing Israel of committing genocide.

A central figure in Petro’s government, Environment Minister Susana Muhamad, has Palestinian roots and was an outspoken defender of the Palestinian cause during her time in government.

Colombia has traditionally been a “historic ally” of Israel in the region. However, under Petro, the country’s very first left-wing president, Colombia has chosen to distance itself from Israel.

“It will be more important for Israel than for Colombia because it is a very heavy blow. It is a moral defeat that isolates Israel even more,” Mauricio Jaramillo, professor of international relations at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, told MEE.

The intricate details of Colombia’s decision to cut ties with Israel have yet to be explained by the Colombian government. Petro’s predecessor, conservative Ivan Duque, was a close friend of Israel and signed a free trade agreement with the state, something Jaramillo expects will remain intact despite Petro’s decision.

“Colombia will not want to go further than a simple break involving the return of the Israeli ambassador,” Jaramillo said, stressing that the economic impact of severing ties is likely to be limited as the two countries do not have particularly close ties . commercial relationship.

Colombian exports to Israel amounted to just under $500 million in 2023.

Military dependence

Much of the relationship between the countries has historically revolved around defense and security, as the Andean nation has long depended on Israeli military support for its decades-long fight against armed groups and drug cartels.

Cutting ties would end that support, undermining a central pillar of President Petro’s domestic agenda.

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“One of Petro’s main policies at home, known as ‘total peace,’ is seeking peace talks with various armed groups. The insistence on a ceasefire in Gaza, and then this decision (to sever ties), fits his political narrative, and we should read this decision as a matter of his personal beliefs and a play on his political base ,” Dickinson explained.

Nevertheless, Palestinian authorities in Colombia welcomed Petro’s decision, saying that breaking dependence on Israeli military intelligence would benefit the country in the long run.

“In the long run, it will benefit the country. Colombia or anyone else cannot be so dependent on a single country because you can become tied to the interests of a third party. It is a long-term opportunity for Colombia’s security and defense to diversify its suppliers and not be at the mercy of a third party,” Alexander Montero, political advisor at the Palestinian Embassy in Bogota, told MEE.

The Israeli embassy in Colombia did not respond to Middle East Eye’s request for comment.

Domino Effect?

With Petro’s decision to cut ties, Colombia now joins Bolivia and Belize as the only countries in the Americas to have severed ties with Israel over the ongoing war in Gaza. Some analysts believe Petro’s move could encourage others to follow suit.

Experts also warned that Colombia’s decision to sever ties with Israel will likely have limited tangible impact on the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. So far, Israeli forces have killed nearly 35,000 people in Palestine.

Brazil and Chile would be the most likely regional contenders to follow suit, as both countries are led by left-wingers who have also been outwardly critical of Israel’s actions.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was declared persona non grata by the Israeli government in February after he compared Israel’s ongoing attack to actions during the Holocaust.

His Chilean counterpart, Gabriel Boric, has long been a defender of the Palestinian cause and has repeatedly spoken out against Israel since the war broke out. Chile is also home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world, leaving President Boric facing increasing internal pressure to take a tougher stance on Israel.

Nevertheless, Chile immediately severed ties with Israel. Following Petro’s announcement, Chilean Foreign Minister Alberto van Klaveren stated that following this process “is not a measure under consideration” by the Boric government.

“I don’t think this will have a huge political, military or economic impact on Israel,” said Yousef Aljamal, an academic and co-author of Palestinian diaspora communities in Latin America and the Palestinian statetold Middle East Eye.

“(But) it is an important step that could open the door for other countries, especially in Latin America, to follow suit and cut ties with Israel. I don’t think this will have an impact on the Israeli attacks on Gaza, but it will send a message of solidarity to the Palestinian people.”