JERUSALEM—Down a cramped alleyway, inside an unremarkable apartment building in a neighborhood that once separated Jerusalem's Jewish west from its Arab east, sits the Embassy of El Salvador, the last ambassadorial holdout in Israel's long struggle to secure global acceptance of this disputed holy city as its capital.
And now El Salvador is leaving. On Friday, El Salvador officially notified Israel's Foreign Office that its embassy would be packing up and leaving for Tel Aviv. Once it does, no country that has diplomatic relations with Israel will have an ambassador in Jerusalem.
El Salvador said it had decided to make the 40-mile trip to Tel Aviv after "analyzing with Israel the current situation in the Middle East," especially in light of the recent U.N. Security Council resolution coordinating a cease-fire in neighboring Lebanon, "which seeks to promote security and greater stability."
El Salvador, a Foreign Ministry statement said, "recognizes and guarantees the right of the state of Israel to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders." But, it added, "equally, the government of El Salvador repeats its recognition of the right of a Palestinian state to exist."
By some measures, El Salvador's announcement has little consequence. It has never been a major player in foreign relations here and no one can remember the last time a Salvadoran caused a stir: economically, politically or socially.
But in a nation that has long measured its isolation through symbols of international recognition, the notice made headlines and stirred some sadness.
"It's a real pity," said Yaakov Bar Simantov, international relations professor at Hebrew University. "Only when we will have peace between Israel and the Palestinians and resolve the issue of Jerusalem in this case we shall expect to see them back."
Israel's most important allies—the United States, Great Britain and France—have consistently kept their embassies in Tel Aviv. But smaller embassies had been here across the years, symbolizing to some Israelis international recognition of their claim to the holy city.
Then, earlier this month, Costa Rica, which had had its embassy in Jerusalem for years, announced that it was decamping to Tel Aviv to make its foreign policy consistent with international norms. That was an especially difficult blow: Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the 1994 Nobel Prize winner for orchestrating a Central American peace agreement, has long been a strong ally of Israel's elder statesman Shimon Peres, a fellow Nobel winner who has long asserted Israel's right to an indivisible capital in Jerusalem.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni issued a statement of "regret and disappointment" over Costa Rica's decision, noting that the timing, days into a shaky cease-fire with Hezbollah, "might be interpreted as giving in to terror and a prize to perpetrators."
"United Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people and nothing can change our firm stand on this subject," she said.
The struggle over Jerusalem's diplomatic status began in earnest in 1980, when Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem its eternal, indivisible capital. A U.N. Security Council resolution insisted that embassies leave the city to protest the unilateralism of determining the city's fate ahead of negotiating Israel's final borders.
About a dozen countries then moved their embassies to Tel Aviv, including the Netherlands, Venezuela, Chile and Haiti. But El Salvador and Costa Rica held out, and Israeli hopes were bolstered by a 1996 vote in the U.S. Congress that gave the White House a May 1999 deadline to set up an embassy in Jerusalem.
Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush signed waivers delaying the controversial move, however, and now the last Jerusalem embassies are gone.
Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman noted that El Salvador's president, Elias Antonio Saca, of the National Republican Alliance Party, is of Palestinian descent.
But the larger significance of the change of diplomatic venue, Hoffman said, was "It's another thing Israel lost in the war; this wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the war" with Hezbollah, which ended at best in a draw via a cease-fire that took hold two weeks ago.
Long-serving Salvadoran Ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson, who speaks Hebrew, declined to say where she'll establish El Salvador's new embassy: in Tel Aviv itself, Israel's commercial center, or in adjacent Herzilya, where some foreign envoys are based.
She was at work Monday but shunning media inquiries at the embassy in Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood, which was split between Arabs and Jews from 1948 until Israeli forces seized East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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