Colombian President Gustavo Petro proposed mediating the release of hostages held in Gaza through what he described as a “peace committee,” responding to a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Colombian leader said in a letter to Netanyahu that he believes it is “a priority to move quickly towards a cessation of hostilities and begin talks to release all hostages.”
How does Colombia view the war in Gaza?
In his response to a private letter he received from the Israeli Prime Minister on January 11, the Colombian President added: “I propose that we move forward by establishing a peace committee composed of different countries to secure the release of hostages, and to achieve the broader goal of ending the violence between Israel and Palestine.” “.
Petro, the first leftist president in Colombia’s history, openly supports the Palestinian cause, and supports South Africa in accusing Israel of committing “genocide” in the Gaza Strip.
In a letter published by the Colombian press – and confirmed by the Israeli embassy, according to what Agence France-Presse reported – Netanyahu had asked him to do his “utmost” to mediate the release of hostages held by Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
In his mediation proposal, the Colombian president referred to the peace process in his country, of which he was one of the heroes when he and other fighters of the radical leftist M-19 movement laid down their arms in 1990.
Petro said that this “was a successful example of reconciliation and civilizational building,” adding that “this same effort and commitment prompted him to submit a proposal to the United Nations to hold a peace conference on Palestine and another on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
In a Hamas attack on October 7, about 250 people were kidnapped and transferred to the Gaza Strip, and about 100 of them were released at the end of November under a truce agreement, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees. There are still 132 hostages in Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities, and it is estimated that 28 of them have died.
What did Netanyahu say?
The Israeli Prime Minister had called on Colombian President Gustavo Petro to help secure the release of 136 people held by Hamas – including a Colombian citizen.
Netanyahu said that “Colombia has a common cause with Israel” to fight for the release of the hostages, who were captured during the Hamas attack, to which Israel responded with military operations in Gaza, killing more than 25,000 people within three months.
In his letter, Netanyahu noted that three months had passed since the hostages were “brutally” kidnapped from their homes and from a music festival.
He said that among the prisoners was Colombian citizen Elkana Bohbut, who, he said, was deprived of assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross, like the rest of the hostages.
He is an Israeli citizen, married to a Colombian citizen named Rebecca Gonzalez, with whom he has a daughter. He worked in the logistics team for the Super Nova Festival, which was targeted by Hamas in the attack. On November 21, Petro’s government granted him Colombian citizenship, which was expected to facilitate his release and reunification with his family. But this measure had no effect.
Netanyahu claimed in the letter that the International Committee of the Red Cross had been “unacceptably passive” toward the needs of Israeli hostages, and that the organization had avoided issuing “an unequivocal statement on Hamas’s responsibility for violating basic rules of civilized behavior.”
In the letter, Netanyahu called on the Colombian president to join the fight against “terrorists,” saying: “Any pressure you can exert to achieve this goal will… [أي الإفراج عن الرهائن]specifically towards Iran, Qatar and Turkey, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, will be invaluable and will help save innocent lives.”
The Colombian president had spoken at the United Nations General Assembly in New York less than a month before the Hamas attack, about the need to start peace negotiations in both Ukraine and Palestine, saying: “What is the difference between Ukraine and Palestine? Isn’t it time to end the two wars?” He asked – according to what was reported by the newspaper El Pais USA: “The reasons they used to defend [الرئيس الأوكراني] The same ones that must be used to defend Palestine.”
Netanyahu’s letter to Petro represents a new chapter in relations between Israel and Colombia, which began in the mid-1950s, as they remained tense after the beginning of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip.
Petro was one of the Latin American leaders who accused Israel of using excessive force in its attack on the Palestinian Gaza Strip. In response, Netanyahu’s government said its operation was legitimate self-defense.
Tensions peaked in October when Petro and the Israeli ambassador to Colombia, Gali Dagan, got into a heated argument on X, according to El Pais USA.
Petro wrote on the social networking site: “I was in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and now I see it in Gaza,” and this angered Israeli society.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat said: “Israel condemns the statements of the Colombian president that reflect support for the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists, fuel anti-Semitism, influence representatives of the State of Israel and threaten the peace of the Jewish community in Colombia.” In response, he said, Israel stopped security exports to Colombia.
President Petro responded by saying: “If we have to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel, that is what we will do. You cannot insult the President of Colombia.”
The Colombian president repeated his criticism of the Israeli attack on Gaza at the COP-28 climate summit, announced the opening of a Colombian embassy in Ramallah in the West Bank, and said that he would ask the United Nations to accept Palestine as a full member.
The Colombian government supported South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, which accuses the Jewish state of “genocidal intent.”
Colombia also voted in the United Nations against the occupation of Palestinian territories.
The Colombian president said that his government decided to support the majority, because “dialogue alone is the rational way to overcome the conflict that has been going on for 75 years, of which the Palestinian people have been victims until now.”
Colombian researcher Marcus Bickel said in an article published by the Israeli Foreign Affairs magazine that Colombian-Israeli relations can be viewed through military cooperation, trade ties, education and culture, and Israel and Colombia exchanged intelligence information and some Israeli technology.
Colombia had abstained from voting in 1947, during the session of the United Nations General Assembly, in which the General Assembly resolution recommended the partition of Palestine.
Relations improved significantly in 1988 when major trade agreements were signed between Israel and Colombia.
Colombia and the Palestinians
On October 15, 2023, Israel stopped all security exports to Colombia due to statements by Colombian President Gustavo Petro in which he compared the Israeli army to the Nazis, and the British newspaper The Guardian described the dispute between the two countries as a “fierce diplomatic dispute.” Colombia recalled its ambassador from Israel to condemn the Israeli bombing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
Colombia supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish a free and independent state. In 2018, Colombia officially recognized the State of Palestine. Before that date, it was one of the few remaining governments in Latin America that did not recognize Palestine as a state.
Colombia considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal, but it strongly condemns what it describes as “Palestinian terrorism” and calls for “a lasting peace based on a two-state solution,” according to Bickle.