Guatemala’s Appropriation of the Concept of Return

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: MEMO)

By Ramona Wadi

As expected, the international community has largely gone silent about the announcements by the US and Guatemala to relocate their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While an aberration in terms of protecting human rights, the initial furor and subsequent dismissal from international institutions’ priorities follows the same political strategy which allowed Israel to colonize Palestine.

The US and Guatemala have communicated the imminent relocation of the embassies to coincide with the Nakba commemoration. Only in their discourse, the occasion is altered to one of “celebration”. This was clearly expressed by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales who was a guest speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference last Sunday.

Reuters reported yesterday that Guatemalan Ambassador Sara Castaneda was looking for properties they could use for the country’s embassy in May. As quoted in the Times of Israel Morales stated:

“In May of this year we will celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, and under my instructions two days after the US will move its embassy, Guatemala will return and permanently move its embassy to Jerusalem.”

Following his speech, Morales also told reporters that he “extended an invitation to other countries” from Europe and Latin America to emulate his decision.

Morales’ choice of words goes beyond a diplomatic decision. Not only does it reflect its historical maneuvers, being the first country in 1959 to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but in his address Morales is encroaching upon Palestinian rights and narratives by appropriating the concept of return.

The enforced absence of Palestinians also formed part of the early colonization plans. From Zionist narratives of the barren land to later dehumanization of Palestinians, as well as the exclusion of Palestinians in decision-making at an international level, the international community has played a treacherous game, particularly with the Palestinian right of return.

The UN General Assembly’s issuing of Resolution 194 on the right of return for Palestinian refugees has been continuously thwarted by the international community. Its failure to address colonial expansion led to the fragmentation of what should constitute return. The first step was to eliminate the return to historic Palestine, in order to prioritize the colonial framework which the UN played a major part in creating. As a result, and also due to the acquiescence exhibited by the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords, the discrepancy between the Palestinians’ right of return and the rewriting of return into a symbolic demand annihilated the people’s collective demand.

Guatemala is well aware of this process which the UN instigated. When Morales spoke about a return to Jerusalem within the context of embassy relocation, there is also an explicit reference to the elimination of Palestinians from their right to return. The UN has contributed a contested identity to historic Palestine, to the point that external actors are allowed to appropriate concepts for their rhetoric which should be exclusively Palestinian. Guatemala is free to articulate its “return” while Palestinians have been forced into a continuous cycle of displacement and mocked by ambiguous resolutions written through assimilating to the colonial narrative.

Calling upon the international community to rectify these violations, as Hanan Ashrawi recently did, is a dangerous game that risks additional loss for Palestinians. Persisting with such tactics not only reinforces manipulation of the Palestinian right of return, it also transmits an assertion to the international community that Palestinian leaders are misrepresenting the Palestinian people by refusing to unite for a solution from within. Morales’s initial foray in appropriating the concept of return to sustain Israel’s narrative will not make headline news. However, it will communicate solidarity with the international community’s decades of scheming against Palestine.

– Ramona Wadi is a staff writer for Middle East Monitor, where this article was originally published. She contributed this article to

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