Seizing upon the Bush administration’s recent push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, the Palestinian Authority has been working to expand the number of countries that recognize Palestine as a country.
The effort received a major boost when Costa Rica, one of the first countries to recognize Israel and, until recently, one of the very few to have an embassy in Jerusalem, decided in early February to establish diplomatic relations with a “Palestinian state.”
Costa Rica, a small Central American country, decided to open official ties with a “state of Palestine” through a document signed February 5 by Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United Nations and Riyad Mansour, the P.A.’s U.N. mission chief. Previously, Costa Rica had no official diplomatic relations with the Palestinians.
Mansour told the Forward that discussions for a similar opening of diplomatic relations were in advanced stages with Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
“We are trying to expand our network of relationships,” he said. “There is no doubt that the new U.S. stance has had a role in the decision of the countries who take their cues from Washington to be encouraged to take new steps.”
While many countries, including the United States, have diplomatic relations with the P.A., Mansour underscored the use of the word “state” by Costa Rica as an important symbol. It prompted a strong reaction from a major American Jewish organization.
“The timing of this decision is both odd and painful,” said the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, in a statement. “Odd because there is not yet a Palestinian state. Painful because this action comes less than two years after President Oscar Arias moved his country’s embassy out of Jerusalem, ending Costa Rica’s long-standing and courageous example of maintaining its embassy in Israel’s capital city.”
When the Palestine Liberation Organization proclaimed a Palestinian state in 1988, some 90 countries established diplomatic relations with it, although the exact formulation has varied. Few countries outside the Arab League have recognized a “state,” as Costa Rica has done.
Costa Rica’s foreign minister, Bruno Stagno, explained in a statement announcing the decision that it “deepens our gradual normalization of diplomatic relations with the Arab and Islamic world, as part of a foreign policy of opening borders, geographically and mentally, which reinforces an intelligent insertion of Costa Rica in the world.”
Mansour explained that Costa Rica’s shift was important symbolically, since the country had voted in favor of the 1947 partition plan and, as such, was historically committed to a two-state solution. In addition, it is currently a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, which often deals with Israeli-Palestinian issues.
The move, which went largely unnoticed, comes after Arias, a Nobel laureate, moved his country’s embassy to Tel Aviv in August 2006. Costa Rica originally opened its embassy to Jerusalem in 1982 under President Luis Alberto Monge, leading Arab League members to sever relations with the country. The only other country to move its embassy was El Salvador, which also decided to move its diplomatic mission back to Tel Aviv within days of Costa Rica’s decision to do so.
Since then, Costa Rica has established diplomatic ties with seven Arab countries.