President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, supported the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in light of his statements regarding Israel, which were strongly criticized by the Israeli Foreign Minister at the international organization’s headquarters.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, denounced violations of international law in Gaza on Tuesday, October 24, and called for an immediate ceasefire during a tense session of the Security Council. This provoked an indignant response from the Israeli Foreign Minister and a call for Guterres’ resignation by the Israeli ambassador.
High Voltage Security Council
Guterres, who condemned Hamas’s violence in its attack on Israel on October 7, also stated that there was no place for “collective punishment” of Palestinian civilians.
“I am deeply concerned about the clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza. Let me be clear: no party in an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law,” Guterres said during the Security Council meeting.
The Portuguese politician went further and argued that Palestinians had been subjected to “56 years of suffocating occupation,” emphasizing that “it is important to recognize that Hamas attacks did not occur in a vacuum.”
These words quickly elicited an angry response from Israeli representatives. The Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, displayed photos of Israeli victims of Hamas attacks while pointing at Guterres, confronting him and rhetorically asking, “Mr. Secretary-General, in what world do you live?”
Finally, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, even called for Antonio Guterres’ resignation. He wrote shortly afterward on his social media account, “He has expressed understanding for terrorism and murder.”
Petro Defends Guterres
The Colombian president, who also has tense relations with Israel, particularly for openly criticizing the Netanyahu government’s reaction to Gaza, came to the defense of the UN Secretary-General.
“Speaking the truth is not a reason for resignation,” the Colombian president wrote on his social media account from China, where he is on an official trip until Friday. Petro also advocated that “Israel must comply with the United Nations resolutions. The international legal order must be preserved, and it is the basis of peace.”
In reality, Guterres’ stance is similar to that of the Colombian president since the Israel conflict began. Both the Colombian president and Guterres have faced criticism, derogatory remarks, and even threats of trade and political relationship breakdowns from Israeli authorities.
Even Europe, traditionally more critical of Israel than the United States, has had differences among its leaders on the unified position to adopt in response to the nearly three-week-long outbreak of violence in the region. In fact, countries like France and Germany have banned public demonstrations in support of the Palestinian people, arguing that they could be interpreted as an “apology for Hamas terrorism.”
Colombia’s Position on Israel
Historically, up until the second presidency of Juan Manuel Santos (2014-2018), Colombia’s position as a country was to follow U.S. political support for the State of Israel and not to recognize the Palestinian state.
This position began to change when, in 2018, the government of Juan Manuel Santos recognized Palestine as a sovereign state. It was that year, almost at the end of his term, that the president and Nobel Peace laureate signed the decree recognizing the Palestinian state.
It was a more symbolic than politically significant gesture, but it marked a change in the country’s approach to Israel. Since then, and under the presidency of Iván Duque (2018-2022), relations continued within the norm, even formalizing agreements for military technology export collaboration between the two countries.
The Challenging Task of Questioning Israel
Relations between Colombia and Israel had not experienced moments of tension since then, neither with Santos, Duque, nor in the first year of President Petro’s term.
A few days ago, apparently at the behest of the Colombian ambassador to the United States, Petro met in Bogota with the Israeli ambassador to mend fences. The president did the same, separately, with the Palestinian ambassador.
Since then, Petro has consistently advocated, as he had before, for a peaceful and political solution to the regional conflict through the convening of a peace conference facilitated by the United Nations.
Now it seems that the Colombian president has found an ally in the Secretary-General of the international organization, who, despite holding an important position, has limited political maneuverability in issues deeply rooted in the policies of states aligned with their traditional partners and subject to geopolitical strategies.