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Guatemala FM defends Israel embassy move

Sandra Jovel says there is no intention to reverse President Jimmy Morales’ decision despite international criticism

Guatemala's Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel listens questions during a news conference in Guatemala City, December 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Guatemala's Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel listens questions during a news conference in Guatemala City, December 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala’s top diplomat on Tuesday defended President Jimmy Morales’ decision to move the Central American nation’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem amid international and domestic criticism.

Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said it amounted to “a foreign policy decision, therefore sovereign.”

Jovel said Tuesday that there is no intention to reverse the decision. In her words, “What we are doing is being coherent with our foreign policy and the ally we have been for Israel.”

Morales announced the change on Christmas Eve, becoming the first country to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead on switching from Tel Aviv.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday to condemn the US decision.

Israel welcomed Guatemala’s announcement, while Palestinian authorities were critical. No timeline has been given for a move.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales (L) in Jerusalem on November 29, 2016. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said Monday it had begun working on moving the embassy.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received the presidential order and is starting the process of implementing this foreign policy decision,” it said in a statement.

Guatemala currently has an embassy in Tel Aviv suburb Herzliya, as well as consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa.

The Jerusalem consulate is in an apartment building on a small residential street near the city’s Mamilla neighborhood and would likely be unsuitable to be transformed into a full-fledged embassy.

The building housing the Guatemalan consulate in Jerusalem. (Google Street View)

Morales said on his official Facebook account on Sunday that after talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he had decided to instruct his foreign ministry to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

“We spoke about the excellent relations that we have had as nations since Guatemala supported the creation of the state of Israel,” he wrote. “One of the most important topics [of the conversation] was the return of the embassy of Guatemala to Jerusalem. So I inform you that I have instructed the chancellor to initiate the respective coordination so that it may happen.”

Netanyahu hailed the decision, saying Guatemala would not be the only nation to follow Washington’s lead.

“Other countries will recognize Jerusalem and announce the relocation of their embassies. A second country did it and I repeat it: there will be others, it’s just the start and it’s important,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel Radio that “we are in contact with at least ten countries, some of them in Europe” over the possible transfer of their embassies to Jerusalem.

She declined to say which states Israel was speaking with, but Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the next country likely to announce an embassy move was Honduras.

Guatemala and Honduras were two of nine nations that voted last week with the United States when the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding resolution denouncing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian foreign ministry has slammed Guatemala.

“It’s a shameful and illegal act that goes totally against the wishes of church leaders in Jerusalem” and of a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution condemning the US recognition, the ministry said in a statement.

AFP contributed to this report.

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