It is impossible to minimize the scope of the diplomatic incident in Israel-Colombia relations triggered by the clandestine recognition of Palestine by former President Juan Manuel Santos. His Aug. 3 announcement recognizing “Palestine as a free, independent, and sovereign state” was made as the moving vans were departing from his presidential palace, in violation of diplomatic protocols, and in flagrant disregard for the transparency required for these types of decisions in a democratic society.
The burden will have to be shouldered by both countries’ governments, to prevent the exploitation in its aftermath by opportunistic profiteers — those sowers of discord who act out of hatred to promote the boycott of the Jewish state and strive to harm the friendly relations between Israel and Colombia.
Even for the Palestinians, the manner in which the Colombian government granted their recognition — on the sly, surreptitiously, and through the back door — cannot help but generate unease. Aside from its indisputable symbolic worth, the practical effects of this recognition, as well as its ratification by current President Ivan Duque’s administration, remain to be seen.
One way or another, and sooner rather than later, the impasse between Israel and Colombia will be overcome. It is in the interest of both nations, whose relations are deeply rooted.
Their extensive cooperation in military and intelligence matters has been essential in the struggle that Colombia has waged for decades against terrorism and organized crime. Bilateral trade nears $600 million per year, with a positive trade balance for Colombia driven by carbon exports.
The signing of the Free Trade Agreement in September 2013, which has been ratified by the Colombian Congress and is now under review by the Constitutional Court, is expected to open new markets for the exchange of goods, services, and investment between the two economies, especially the export of agricultural, meat, and manufacturing products to Israel.
The “orange economy,” one of Duque’s pillars of economic development, relies on Israel as a major partner. (The “orange economy” refers to economic activities associated with culture such as music, design, movies, art, and more.) The Jewish state is a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, and is at present collaborating with Colombia on projects, such as iNNPULSA — a government agency created to support and promote business growth through innovation — which seek to generate an ecosystem for the creation of Colombian startups.
Israel is also the recognized world leader in the increasingly critical area of water management, with its desalination plants, wastewater treatment facilities, and reservoir preservation — all technologies that could be of great use to Colombia. Over the years thousands of Colombians have benefited from scholarships to study in Israel, as an ever-growing cultural and touristic exchange between the two countries has
The only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through a process of negotiation between the stakeholders resulting in the creation of a “free, independent, and sovereign” State of Palestine in peaceful coexistence with Israel. In the meantime, 139 countries so far have recognized a state that does not exist.
Marcos Peckel is executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Colombia and a university professor. This column was translated from Spanish by Ariel Peckel, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.