by Karina Stange Calandrin*

Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

On September 19, as usual, Brazil opened the annual regular meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, following the same protocol since the organization was founded. The current president, Lula, in his third term and eighth speech at the General Assembly, addressed various current issues, such as the war in Ukraine and climate change. Lula also mentioned the Israel-Palestine conflict in his speech.
“[…] It is disturbing to see that old unresolved disputes persist and that new threats emerge or gain strength. This is well demonstrated by the difficulty in ensuring the creation of a state for the Palestinian people. […]”
Those who had never seen Lula speak at the UN may have been surprised by the mention of Palestine in his speech, but it’s not new. The conflict had been mentioned in previous speeches by the President of the UN during his first two terms.
During the early years of Lula’s presidency (2003 to 2010), Brazil maintained a consistent position regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Brazil supported the two-state solution as a means to achieve lasting peace in the region, recognizing the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and advocating for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
In the General Assembly in 2006, still in his first term, Lula stated, “[…] In Brazil, millions of Arabs and Israelis coexist harmoniously and integratedly. Brazil’s interest in the Middle East reflects an objective and profound social reality of our country. The Middle East issue has always been exclusively addressed – apart from those directly involved – by the great powers. They have not yet reached a solution. So, it is worth asking: wouldn’t it be the time to convene a broad conference under the auspices of the United Nations, with the participation of countries from the region and others that could contribute due to their capacity and experience in peacefully coexisting with differences? Brazil believes in dialogue. That’s why we held the South America-Arab Countries Summit in 2005. We also maintain good relations with Israel, whose birth as a state occurred when a Brazilian, Osvaldo Aranha, presided over the General Assembly. […]”
In 2009, in his second term, the president said, “[…] From a UN with the political and moral authority to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East, ensuring the coexistence of a Palestinian state with the State of Israel; […]”
At the time, Lula expressed concern about the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and emphasized the importance of a negotiated and fairly conducted peace process based on international law. However, Brazil also maintained diplomatic relations with Israel and did not intervene in trade ties, seeking a balanced approach in the pursuit of a peaceful solution.
To understand Lula’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it’s important to consider the historical context. During Jair Bolsonaro’s government, his most recent predecessor, Brazil supported controversial measures such as relocating the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, aligning with the policies of then-U.S. President Donald Trump. The change did not materialize, but the mere vocalization of the idea already indicated Bolsonaro’s leaning.
However, Lula’s arrival in power represented a significant change in this approach. Lula has consistently advocated for the two-state solution as the basis for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. This position aligns with the majority of nations and international organizations, which support the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. This vision seeks lasting peace and a geographical division that allows for the self-determination of the Palestinian people.
Lula also strongly criticizes Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, considering them an obstacle to peace. These settlements are viewed by the international community as illegal and a violation of international law. Lula emphasizes the need for Israel to halt the expansion of settlements as part of any meaningful peace process.
The current Brazilian president emphasizes the importance of multilateralism and international diplomacy in resolving the conflict. He believes that the UN plays a crucial role in this context and that negotiations should be conducted through multilateral channels to ensure a fair and impartial approach.

It’s important to note that despite his critical rhetoric, Brazil maintains economic and trade relations with Israel. This demonstrates the complexity of the political and economic considerations that influence the country’s foreign policy. Lula recognizes the importance of these relationships but seeks to balance them with his political principles and support for the Palestinian cause.
Lula’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict is part of his pursuit of autonomy and sovereignty in Brazilian foreign policy. He aims to assert Brazil as an independent global actor capable of making decisions aligned with its national interests and its vision of global justice, rather than being influenced by foreign powers.
Lula is not exempt from criticism regarding his approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Some argue that his statements do not translate into effective political actions. Additionally, some of his inaccurate statements, such as the one made in Spain about the UN being responsible for the creation of Israel, can harm diplomatic relations and Brazil’s credibility as a mediator. This year, during an official meeting of Mercosur with the Spanish government, Lula made the following statement: “The UN was so powerful that in 1948, it managed to create the State of Israel. In 2023, it can’t create the Palestinian state.” This statement was widely criticized, as the UN, as an international organization, does not have the prerogative to create countries. What happened was a meeting in 1947 that culminated in the approval, by a majority of member countries at the time, of Resolution 181, which suggested the creation of two nation-states, one Arab and one Jewish, in the territory known as the British Mandate for Palestine. Israeli sovereignty was established subsequently, not by the will of the UN as an organization but due to other factors.
Lula’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict reflects a complex approach that seeks to balance political, economic, and ideological interests. His advocacy for the two-state solution, criticism of settlements, and emphasis on multilateralism demonstrate his commitment to lasting peace in the region. However, the practical implementation of his foreign policy regarding this conflict will continue to be a subject of debate and evaluation.

* Karina Stange Calandrin is a Post-doctoral Fellow at the International Relations Institute of the University of São Paulo, PhD in International Relations, and a Professor at the University of Sorocaba. Email: karinacalandrin@gmail.com

Karina Stange Calandrin (2023) "Treading the Diplomatic Tightrope: Lula’s Approach to the Israel-Palestine Conflict". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Editor's ChoicenameISSN 2701-4924nameVol. 3 Num. 1. available at: https://bras-center.com/treading-the-diplomatic-tightrope-lulas-approach-to-the-israel-palestine-conflict/, accessed on: July 17, 2024.