By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – As the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues to escalate, Brazil condemned the bloodshed, expressing deep regret for both parties’ loss of life on behalf of Mercosur. A statement released by Brazil’s foreign ministry, Itamaraty, noted that the heads of Mercosur were concerned by a “disproportionate use of force.”
This is likely in reference to the destructive power of Israel’s airstrikes and its well-funded military, compared to the Hamas rockets.
The heads of Mercosur voiced support for Palestine’s bid for UN observer status, and urged both parties to cease attacks. They called on the Security Council of the United Nations “to fully assume its responsibilities.”
In an interview, Israel’s Ambassador to Brazil Rafael Eldad said he was concerned the statement could lend legitimacy to what Israel considers terrorist attacks.
“The conflict is not between Israel and Palestine; it is between Israel and the terrorist organization called Hamas,” he said. “We are living under fire, constantly, for years […] almost half the population. It is as if Brazil had 95 million people living under fire.”
In response, the press office of Itamaraty said that as Brazil recognizes Palestine as a state, it was “natural to talk about this conflict in terms of Israel and Palestine.”
Ambassador Eldad went on to express bafflement at the statement’s reference to Palestine’s efforts to join the UN. “I could not understand what that is to do with a conflict against Hamas,” he said, “and I was sad not to see any mention of sympathy for the millions of Israelis suffering constant attack.”
Brazil does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist group and has historically been supportive of Palestine, recognizing it as a state along its pre-1967 borders and hosting Palestine’s first embassy in the Americas in December 2010.
Countries throughout Latin America followed Brazil’s lead on Palestinian statehood shortly afterwards. At the time, Israel called Brazil’s moves “seriously harmful” to the Middle East peace process. Washington reportedly said they were “premature.”
In a Monday interview Palestinian Ambassador to Brazil Ibrahim Alzeben welcomed Mercosur’s statement, and applauded Brazil’s support for Palestinian statehood and UN membership.
“Brazil’s position and Mercosur’s position is useful to the Palestinians, and it is a reflection of a pacifist attitude towards the Middle East, which is also helpful to us,” he said. “We are grateful to Brazil for taking this position, for recognizing us as a state and being conscientious about the rights of the Palestinian people.”
The Israel airstrikes against Gaza began last Wednesday, reportedly in response to rocket fire reaching Tel Aviv for the first time. According to local tallies, as of Tuesday 113 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli air strikes, including 54 civilians. Recent sources indicate three Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rocket fire during the recent exchange.
Reports from Gaza suggest that Israel is prepared for a ground invasion, but is holding off while ceasefire talks are held. In a sign that a breakthrough may be imminent, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday left President Barack Obama’s tour of South-east Asia early to help broker peace talks with regional leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Cairo, the U.S. State Department said.