Guatemala says it’s begun working on moving embassy to Jerusalem

No clear timetable for how long trailblazing transfer from Herzliya to capital will take

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)
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)

Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said Monday it had begun working on moving the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a day after President Jimmy Morales announced he would follow US President Donald Trump’s controversial lead on the holy city.

“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.

It was not immediately clear how long the move would take. On December 6, Trump announced he would move the US embassy to the city after recognizing it as Israel’s capital, but the actual process is expected to take six years, according to US officials.

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)

Werner W. Loval, the honorary consul in Jerusalem, told The Media Line website Monday that there was no time frame for the move.

Guatemalan President Jimmy 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.

This file picture taken on November 28, 2016, shows Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shaking hands during a joint press conference after signing bilateral agreements at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Pool/Abir Sultan)

“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.

In a December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, and condemned by much of the rest of the world. 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.

The resolution passed at the UN declared the US action on Jerusalem “null and void.” The 128-9 vote was a victory for Palestinians, but fell short of the total they had predicted. Thirty-five nations abstained and 21 stayed away from the vote.

Guatemala, Israel and Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo in voting with the United States and opposing the measure. There were also 35 abstentions and 21 countries were absent or did not vote at all.

Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, prepares to speak on the floor of the General Assembly on December 21, 2017 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, had said her country would “take names” of the states opposing its position, and Trump threatened to cut funding to countries “that take our money and then vote against us.”

Guatemala and Honduras are both reliant on US funding to improve security in their gang-ridden territories.

Violence, corruption and poverty have made the two countries, along with El Salvador, the main source of illegal migration to the United States, which is giving them $750 million to provide better conditions at home.

View of a church in Antigua, Guatemala. October 24, 2008. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)

The Palestinian foreign ministry 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.

Morales, like Trump, was a television entertainer with no real political experience before becoming president of Guatemala in 2016.

On Friday, Morales foreshadowed the decision he was to make regarding Jerusalem, as he defended his government’s vote at the UN backing the United States.

“Guatemala is historically pro-Israeli,” he told a news conference in Guatemala City.

“In 70 years of relations, Israel has been our ally,” he said. “We have a Christian way of thinking that, as well as the politics of it, has us believing that Israel is our ally and we must support it.”

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