Amid election stir, Netanyahu may cut short historic Brazil visit
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Amid election stir, Netanyahu may cut short historic Brazil visit

Five-day trip, the first-ever to the South American nation by an Israeli PM, would be reduced to two days, his office reportedly says

Jair Bolsonaro, then a presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, waves after voting in the presidential runoff election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Silvia izquierdo)
Jair Bolsonaro, then a presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, waves after voting in the presidential runoff election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Silvia izquierdo)

With his parliament headed to dissolution and the nation going to elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly looking to dramatically shorten an unprecedented trip to Brazil planned for later this week.

Netanyahu was scheduled to head to Rio on December 27, the first-ever trip to the Latin American country by an Israeli prime minister.

The trip was planned around the inauguration of Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro on January 1. Netanyahu was to return to Israel on January 2.

On the schedule was Netanyahu’s first bilateral meeting with Bolsonaro and meetings with representatives of the Jewish community. On December 31 he was to fly to the capital, Brasilia, for events at the Presidential Palace, the Foreign Ministry Palace, and at the National Congress surrounding the inauguration. He was also slated to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brasilia.

On Tuesday, sources in Netanyahu’s office told Hebrew-language media outlets he was now expected to travel on December 28 and be back on December 30, a whirlwind visit that would only leave time for meetings with Bolsonaro, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to give a statement at the Knesset ahead of a UN Security Council discussion on cross-border tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, on December 19, 2018. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

He will not stay in the country for Bolsonaro’s inauguration, nor meet with Pompeo.

Bolsonaro ran a controversial, populist campaign, and pledged shortly after his election in late October to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move his country’s embassy there.

“Israel is a sovereign state and we shall duly respect that,” he tweeted at the time.

Bolsonaro has also vowed to close the Palestinian mission in Brasilia.

The planned embassy move has drawn wide praise from Israel and its supporters, and condemnation from the Arab world.

Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned Bolsonaro to reconsider the move, according to Reuters.

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro salutes during a celebration in front of his residence after he was declared the winner of the election runoff, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

“The Arab world has much respect for Brazil and we want not just to maintain relations, but improve and diversify them. But the intention of moving the embassy to Jerusalem could harm them,” an unnamed diplomat told the news agency, describing the Arab league’s position.

Under pressure from Arab nations, the president-elect is reportedly considering walking back some of those promises, but has said he remains committed to boosting his country’s ties with Brazil.

Asked by a Brazilian reporter earlier this month what he thought of Latin America’s recent shift to the right, Netanyahu replied: “Our concern is not the domestic decisions, the political decisions, but what is their relationship to us? I was very glad to hear that Mr. Bolsonaro thinks that we should upgrade and change Brazil’s attitude to Israel.”

Brazil is among the largest exporters of halal meat to the Arab world, and exporters have lobbied Bolsonaro not to move the embassy and risk trade, according to Reuters.

The president-elect appeared to briefly back off the pledge last month, but his son Eduardo Bolsonaro recently told Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of US President Donald Trump, that it was a matter of “when, not if.”

Only the United States and Guatemala currently have their embassies in Jerusalem, while other countries have theirs in Tel Aviv.

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