Brazil on Sunday announced it would open a trade office in Jerusalem, joining a growing list of countries seeking to boost their ties with Israel while stopping short of relocating their embassies from Tel Aviv.
The new office in Jerusalem will “promote trade, investment, technology and innovation as a part of its embassy in Israel,” the Foreign Ministry in capital city Brasilia said in a statement.
Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz was the first to break the news Sunday after meeting with his visiting Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Araujo.
Welcoming Araujo on his two-day trip to Israel along with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Katz thanked Brazil “for opening a diplomatic office in Jerusalem.”
“Israel and Brazil are true friends sharing common values and we will strengthen the cooperation between our two countries,” Katz tweeted.
Bem vindo to Israel @ernestofaraujo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil & President @jairbolsonaro. Obrigado for opening a diplomatic office in Jerusalem! Israel and Brazil are true friends sharing common values and we will strengthen the cooperation between our two countries. pic.twitter.com/yj2Qavz9NV
— ישראל כ”ץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) March 31, 2019
The newly elected Bolsonaro had repeatedly promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem, drawing praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump and criticism from other countries.
“As I promised during the campaign, we intend to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel is a sovereign country and we respect them,” Bolsonaro tweeted four days after winning the presidential election in the fall of 2018.
However, he appeared to back off his promise last week when he said he was considering opening a “trade office” in Jerusalem.
Araujo told reporters earlier this month the government was “still studying” the embassy transfer plan.
In January, Bolsonaro’s vice president, retired army Gen. Hamilton Mourao, met the Palestinian ambassador to Brazil. After the meeting, he told reporters, “Brazil, for now, is not thinking of moving the embassy.”
Palestinian leaders and officials from across the Arab world advocated strongly against such a move, which would be seen as an “attack” on Palestinian people and a breach of international law, the Palestinian envoy to the Latin American country said recently.
By contrast, Netanyahu visited Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro in December and told reporters that “Bolsonaro said it was not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” referring to the embassy move.
So far, the US and Guatemala are the only countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem. Paraguay moved its embassy to the city last year, but has since relocated it to Tel Aviv.
In recent weeks, several countries have opened or announced plans to open trade or cultural centers in the capital, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Bolsonaro, a right-wing firebrand who had made headlines for playing down the brutality of the country’s past military dictatorship, opened his comments in Portuguese at the reception ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday with the Hebrew phrase “Ani ohev et Israel,” or “I love Israel.”
“We are making history together,” Netanyahu said at an airport welcoming ceremony, adding that they had “opened a new era in relations between our two countries.”
Bolsonaro said: “my government is firmly resolved to strengthen the partnership between Brazil and Israel.”
“Cooperation in the areas of security and defense is also of great interest to Brazil,” he said.
AFP contributed to this report.