An increasingly tense, yet unexpected diplomatic crisis has erupted between Colombia and Israel over Hamas and the war in Gaza. After ten days of tweets from President Gustavo Petro openly criticizing the Israeli government’s military response in the Gaza Strip, even going so far as to compare Netanyahu’s government’s practises to those of Nazi Germany, yesterday, Foreign Minister Leyva suggested that the Israeli ambassador should leave Colombia.
Alvaro Leyva’s statements came after criticism from Israeli spokespeople towards the Colombian president and the announcement of the suspension of Israel’s exports to Colombia. Hours later, Colombia’s foreign minister clarified that he had not stated that the ambassador would be expelled but had simply requested respect for President Petro.
Weekend of Diplomatic Tension
While the entire conservative opposition in Colombia and the media criticize the president’s words on their social media, where he has not condemned Hamas violence but has criticized Israel’s response, Gustavo Petro has continued with his critical messages about Israeli military decisions.
Although the Colombian president’s statements have been limited to his social media, they have caused a significant diplomatic crisis with threats from both sides of a rupture in relations. For now, the suspension of security exports from Israel, one of Colombia’s main arms suppliers, and the maintainer of the latest technology aircraft of the Colombian Aerospace Force (FAC), has already been announced.
Far from reducing the pressure, in recent hours, Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva has added fuel to the fire by aligning with the Colombian president and hinting at the expulsion of the Jewish ambassador in Bogotá. Although Leyva has ultimately clarified these interpretations, diplomatic tension remains high.
“It has not been said that the Israeli ambassador is expelled. It is only pointed out that measured words and respect for President Petro @petrogustavo are obligatory in diplomatic relations,” Leyva specified, denying that he had called for the ambassador, Gali Dagan, to leave.
Call to Maintain Political Relations
The Colombian foreign minister added, “Relations with Israel will be maintained if that is what this country wishes. Our constitutional principles teach us and mandate us to respect international law, which should be a two-way street. Respectful relations between states are always welcome.”
Similarly, President Gustavo Petro has also called for the resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians through diplomatic means, recalling his speech at the last United Nations General Assembly, in which he called for two peace conferences for Ukraine and Palestine to resolve their territorial disputes through peaceful means.
“In my speech at the United Nations, we had two territorial occupations by two nations: Ukraine and Palestine, which is why I proposed holding two peace conferences to resolve these conflicts and focus on agreements to build a decarbonized economy,” the Colombian president had recalled on the previous day.
In the same message, the president stated that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories “must cease, and military actions against the civilian population, as it violates international humanitarian law. War crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in the violent actions of both parties, which must be investigated by the justice systems of both countries or by the international community.”
Furthermore, Gustavo Petro clarified that “the civilian population, whether Israeli or Palestinian, is not responsible for this violence. The Palestinian National Authority has acted responsibly. We hope that their desires for peace become a reality.”
Colombia Condemns Brussels Attack
On the other hand, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the attack that occurred on Monday, October 16, in Brussels, Belgium, which resulted in two fatalities. According to Belgian authorities, the two deceased individuals were Swedish citizens and were allegedly murdered in an Islamist-related assault.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses its unequivocal rejection of the attack on civilians today in Brussels, in which two Swedish citizens died. We stand in solidarity with Belgium and Sweden in the face of these events,” read the statement from the Foreign Ministry’s official account.
This action has led the political opposition in Colombia to question why the government has not yet condemned the attack carried out by Hamas militants against Israeli civilians on Saturday, October 7, which marked the beginning of the current situation of violence. For the opposition, the silence of the Colombian government is unacceptable, especially considering that two Colombian citizens lost their lives in that violent act.
International Disarray Over Escalation of Violence
The diplomatic discord between Israel and Colombia is not exceptional. It may have come as a surprise due to the political alliance that both countries have maintained for over five decades. However, the current Colombian government, which has a progressive orientation, is changing Colombia’s traditional response, which used to unconditionally align with Israel’s state policy.
This is not an isolated case. This week, the European Union has also experienced a series of disagreements and contradictions in its message regarding the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during her visit to Jerusalem, expressed unusual support for Israel, breaking with the EU’s historic neutrality that used to show more understanding of the Palestinian position.
“We stand with Israel,” the President of the Commission went so far as to say in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, a few hours later, spokespeople from the same European institution and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, qualified von der Leyen’s statements, stating that Israel’s right to legitimate defense has its limits in regard to respecting human rights.
What is evident is that the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East has caught foreign ministries worldwide off guard. This happens at a time when international diplomacy at a higher level is more necessary than ever.