Guatemala: No US pressure behind embassy move to Jerusalem

Foreign minister says decision was due solely to her country being ‘friends and historical allies with Israel’

A woman walks across Israel square in Guatemala City on December 27, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Orlando ESTRADA)
A woman walks across Israel square in Guatemala City on December 27, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Orlando ESTRADA)

The United States did not pressure Guatemala into announcing it will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Central American state’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

“There wasn’t any pressure. There wasn’t any overture from the United States to make this happen. This was a decision by the government, the state and the foreign policy of Guatemala,” the minister, Sandra Jovel, told a news conference in Guatemala City.

A picture taken on December 25, 2017, shows the Guatemalan flag hanging outside the building housing the offices of the Central American country’s embassy, in the Israeli city of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

Her affirmation followed Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’s announcement on Sunday that his country was to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The declaration made Guatemala the first — and so far, only — country to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in saying its embassy would be relocated to the holy city.

Guatemala, like the United States, has not said when its embassy move would happen.

‘Historical allies’

Last week, two-thirds of UN members states — 128 in all — rejected Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Just nine countries voted against the UN General Assembly resolution: the United States, Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo. Other countries abstained or did not enter a vote.

The United States warned it would look at cutting funding to countries that voted against it.

Jovel told the news conference with an annoyed tone: “We have not had pressure from any country, because we are friends and historical allies with Israel…. We have asked nothing of Israel nor the United States.”

Her government insists the embassy is not “moving” but rather “returning” to Jerusalem, where it was originally located until being shifted to Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, in 1978.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel answers questions during a press conference at the Culture Palace in Guatemala City on December 27, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Orlando ESTRADA)

Several mainly Latin American countries had diplomatic missions in Jerusalem until a 1980 UN Security Council resolution condemned Israel’s annexation of the city’s eastern neighborhoods.

Jovel said the plan to put the embassy in Jerusalem “had been considered for the past five months, and things just lined up in a certain way and also the resolutions in the UN and everything contributed to saying that now was the right time.”

Israel predicts more will follow

Guatemala’s assertion that it decided the move alone, without being pressed by the United States, follows criticism from the Palestinian foreign ministry and a focus on how reliant the country is on US aid and trade.

Morales, like Trump, is a former TV entertainer who was elected president as an outsider promising to shake things up.

His political future is fragile as a UN-backed body works with Guatemalan prosecutors to investigate claims of corruption against him.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as US Vice President looks on, at the White House, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, and claims all of the city as its capital, while Palestinians consider East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.

In a move that delighted much of Israel’s leadership but ignited protests across the Muslim world, Trump announced on December 6 that the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and planned to move its embassy there.

Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the announcements by the US and Guatemala were “just the start” and predicted “there will be others.”

The European Union, however, has ruled out any change to its position.

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