South American Israelis celebrate Colombian president’s Nobel Peace Prize

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Latin American Jews living in Israel added their voice to the chorus of congratulations sent to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Santos, who on Friday won the distinction for his efforts to end Colombia’s five-decades-long civil war, “is highly worthy of the prize not only for promoting peace with rebel militants but also for advancing his country and its society and for strengthening international alliances, including with Israel,” Leon Amiras, chairman of the Association of Olim from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, told JTA.

The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace deal that Santos helped bring about to end the war that has cost the lives of more than 200,000 people.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that rejection doesn’t mean the peace process is dead.

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“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” it said. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.” The committee did not cite Santos’s counterpart in the peace negotiations, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Santos and Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the peace deal last month, ending a half-century of hostilities, only to see a major setback in the shock vote against the agreement in a referendum six days later.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, “despite the ‘No’ majority vote in the referendum, has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution. Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende congratulated Santos on Twitter. “It takes great courage pursuing peace and securing a final outcome that can end the conflict,” he wrote.

Amiras said that “only time will tell whether the peace pursued by Santos will hold,” but noted that he is a “model peacemaker” who has “probably made greater progress than anyone else” toward resolving the conflict. “His achievements are something that we cannot ignore both as Latin American Jews and as Israelis yearning for peace,” Amiras added.

Under Santos, Colombia in 2011 diverged from the policies of many of its neighbors when it declared it would not recognize a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state.

“Relations between Israel and Colombia have deepened significantly under Santos, whose policy served as an important counterweight to the destabilizing effects of Hugo Chavez,” Amiras said, referencing the late president of Venezuela – a harsh critic of Israel who has been accused of pursuing anti-Semitic policies and aiding terrorists.

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