Brazil has ‘clear intention’ to move embassy to Jerusalem, but no date set

Brazil has ‘clear intention’ to move embassy to Jerusalem, but no date set

Presidential aide says Jair Bolsonaro is considering step: ‘If it happens, it will happen with caution, while showing Arab community it is no provocation’

Brazil's newly sworn-in President Jair Bolsonaro is pictured during his inauguration ceremony, at the Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019.  (NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP)
Brazil's newly sworn-in President Jair Bolsonaro is pictured during his inauguration ceremony, at the Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP)

A senior aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday said there was a “clear intention” to move the country’s Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though no date had yet been set.

National Security Adviser Augusto Heleno said Bolsonaro was taking other matters into consideration, and had yet to make up his mind. Heleno also said he did not believe that moving the embassy would harm Brazil’s lucrative meat trade with Arab nations.

“The president is considering it for now,” he said. “If it happens, it will happen with caution and while showing the Arab community that it is no provocation.”

He added that a move would be natural, as “whoever said that the capital was Jerusalem were the Israelis themselves. We are just fulfilling their determination.”

He also said it was “natural” for the two countries to work together on security and said Israel had impressive capabilities it could share with Brazil.

During his visit to Brazil for Bolsanaro’s inauguration last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters the incoming president had told him it was only a matter of time until Brazil moved its embassy to Jerusalem. “It’s not a question of if, just a question of when,” he said Sunday.

Netanyahu announced his trip to Brazil in November after Bolsonaro indicated in a tweet that intended to follow in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump in moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Bolsonaro later backtracked by saying “it hasn’t been decided yet.”

Jerusalem’s fate is one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nearly all countries maintain embassies in Tel Aviv, and the US decision to move its embassy earlier this sparked visceral opposition from the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, exit after a visit to the Kehilat Yaacov synagogue, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 28, 2018. (Leo Correa/Pool Photo via AP)

An embassy move could put at risk lucrative Brazilian poultry and halal meat exports to Arab countries, which fiercely oppose any unilateral moves seen as cementing Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and most countries in the world insist Jerusalem’s status can only be resolved through negotiations and as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Nearly 20 percent of Brazil’s $5 billion beef exports go to 17 Arab countries. Brazil-Israel trade currently amounts to $1.2 billion.

Bolsonaro’s ascent to the presidency represents a dramatic, rightward shift in Brazil’s politics.

For decades, the country has been under center-left and center-right rule and resolutely sought to carve out its foreign policy independent of the United States.

The leftist Workers Party, which had dominated Brazilian politics for 13 years before Bolsonaro’s election, often showed support for Palestinian statehood. But Bolsonaro and Netanyahu have developed an increasingly warm relationship with similar views on security issues.

In exchange for moving its embassy, Israel has offered assistance to Brazil in domestic security — a key part of the Bolsonaro campaign in the crime-ridden country — including the sale of drones with facial recognition technology.

Benjamin Netanyahu, third right, and Juan Orlando Hernandez, third left, meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, on January 1, 2019. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

According to reports, Honduras has also expressed interest in moving its embassy to Jerusalem in exchange for an Israeli embassy in its capital and assistance in cyber security, water, and agriculture tech and law enforcement.

After a meeting between Netanyahu, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brasilia on Tuesday, Israel and Honduras announced plans to push forward with the embassy move.

The countries “agreed to pursue a plan of action, which includes meetings in their three respective capitals, to advance the process of the decision to open embassies in both Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem,” a joint statement from the three countries released by the US State Department read.

Israel and Honduras “agreed to strengthen political relations and coordinate cooperation on development in Honduras,” the statement read.

Netanyahu has made a major push for other countries to follow the US in moving their embassies to Jerusalem, with moderate success. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he would consider the issue, said last month that his government would only recognize the western half of the city as Israel’s capital and leave its embassy in Tel Aviv.

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

Moldova’s president recently said his country would “very seriously consider” moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to Jewish interlocutors who met with him.

Other countries who have expressed interest in moving embassies have been met with denunciations by Arab and Muslim leaders and threats to downgrade ties or harm trade relations.

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