SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Feb. 28)
Official election results have given 1987 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias a narrow victory in Costa Rica’s presidential elections, throwing the future of the country’s embassy in Jerusalem into doubt. Three weeks after voting, the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced last week that Arias had scored nearly 41 percent of the vote, defeating his closest rival in the 14-man field by slightly more than 18,000 votes.
Arias, who previously served as president from 1986-1990, has said he would move the embassy out of Jerusalem, leaving El Salvador as the only country with an embassy in the disputed Israeli capital.
However, Arias has not commented publicly on his stance on Jerusalem for more than six months, leading some to believe he may flip-flop on the issue.
Deputy Aida Faingezich is the only Jewish member of the current Legislative Assembly, which leaves office in May. She said pressure from Christian groups may press Arias to back down from moving the embassy, though she admitted she is uncertain where the embassy will be when Arias’ four-year term expires.
Two members of the small Jewish community, Clara Zomer and Masha Ofelia Taitelbaum, won election to the next Legislative Assembly on his National Liberation Party’s slate and another member, former deputy Sandra Piszk, is widely rumored to be in line for a seat in Arias’ Cabinet.
National Liberation has traditionally enjoyed support from the Orthodox and staunchly Zionist local Jewish community since it was founded in the 1940s.
The embassy was not a factor in the race. Voters, who were expected to hand Arias a landslide, instead gave lukewarm backing to the former president, who made his support of the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement the focus of his campaign.
Arias’ stance on the embassy has gotten the most attention in the Jewish community and among Israeli officials, who fear that since El Salvador’s president, Tony Saca, is of Palestinian descent, he would likely follow Costa Rica’s lead if Arias moves the embassy.
The Costa Rican embassy has been in Jerusalem since 1982, and during his first administration, Arias left it there. El Salvador’s embassy has been in the city since the mid-1980s, a gesture of gratitude by the right-wing ARENA Party for Israel’s military aid to the government during its bloody civil war with the leftist FMLN.