Arab League warns Brazil that Jerusalem embassy move could harm ties

Arab diplomats expected to meet in Brasilia Tuesday to discuss move, after letter sent to president-elect Jair Bolsonaro urging him to back off promise or risk downgrade

Demonstrators light flares and hold Palestinians flags as they protest against clashes in Gaza and the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (AP/Andre Penner)
Demonstrators light flares and hold Palestinians flags as they protest against clashes in Gaza and the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (AP/Andre Penner)

The Arab League has warned Brazil that it could face a downgrade in ties if it goes ahead with its promise to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, according to a report Monday.

Brazil’s ultra-conservative president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, set to be sworn in on January 1, has vowed to transfer the embassy and close the Palestinian mission in Brasilia.

The announcement has drawn wide praise from the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but condemnation from the Arab world.

In a letter to Brazil’s foreign ministry, Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned that Bolsonaro should reconsider the move, according to Reuters, which obtained the missive.

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro delivers gestures during a ceremony in which he received a diploma that certifies he can take office as president from Electoral Supreme Court (TSE) president Justice Rosa Weber, at the TSE in Brasilia, on December 10, 2018. (EVARISTO SA / AFP)

“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 Reuters, describing the Arab league’s position.

Diplomats from the Arab League’s 22 member states plan to huddle Tuesday in Brasilia to discuss the embassy move, according to Reuters.

Bolsonaro announced he would move the embassy shortly after he was elected in late October.

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

Supporters of far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party, Jair Bolsonaro, celebrate in Rio de Janeiro, after the former army captain won Brazil’s presidential election, on October 28, 2018. (CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)

Netanyahu hailed the decision as “historic,” but Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi condemned it as “illegal.”

“These are provocative and illegal steps that will only destabilize security and stability in the region,” Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, told AFP in November.

In the letter to the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, the Arab League warned moving the embassy could break international law, though it was Brazil’s decision where to locate it.

“However, the situation of Israel is not normal, seeing that it is a country that has been occupying Palestinian territories by force – among them East Jerusalem,” the letter said.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit (R) receives Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo on September 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)

The Organization of Islamic Countries has also urged Brazil not to move the embassy.

In September, the organization’s executive committee, meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, reiterated “its determination to take political, economic and other measures against countries which recognize Al-Quds as the so-called capital of Israel or relocate their embassies thereto.”

The committee called on all OIC member states to halt the import of cardamom from Guatemala and “and not to conduct high level visits to this country or to organize joint cultural, sportive or artistic events” until its embassy is removed from Jerusalem.

Brazil is among the largest exporters of halal meat to the Arab world, and exporters have lobbied Bolsonaro to not 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.

View of the US embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. It sees the entire city as its capital.

For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.

The embassy move squarely aligns Bolsonaro with US President Donald Trump, and bolsters his image as a “Tropical Trump.”

In December 2017, Trump reversed longstanding policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to boycott his administration.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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