Honduras opens trade office in Jerusalem, in ‘first step’ toward embassy move

Honduras opens trade office in Jerusalem, in ‘first step’ toward embassy move

President Hernandez hails ‘historic day’; prays at Western Wall, but stops short of endorsing Israeli sovereignty at flashpoint holy site

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of a Honduran trade office in Jerusalem, on September 1, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of a Honduran trade office in Jerusalem, on September 1, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Honduras on Sunday opened a trade mission with diplomatic status in Jerusalem, a move the Latin American country’s president said was a “first step” toward moving the embassy to the city.

“Today is a historic day for Honduras and Israel,” Juan Orlando Hernandez declared, moments after he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially inaugurated the Honduran “Trade and Cooperation” office in central Jerusalem.

The opening of the trade office is merely a “first step,” the president said, noting that the second step — opening an embassy — would follow in the coming month.

The office, which has “diplomatic status” as it is considered an extension of the Honduran embassy in Tel Aviv, is located inside the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce on 10 Hillel Street. It will bring “more investment and more opportunities for the Honduran people,” Hernandez predicted.

At the event, Netanyahu thanked Hernandez for opening this “important mission” in Jerusalem and for his recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.

Last week, Hernandez said that for him, opening a trade office in the city is “the recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

In his speech Sunday, Netanyahu said that Jerusalem has been “our capital since the time of King David” three millennia ago.

“I have committed, and this is a commitment I want to repeat again: We will open embassies simultaneously,” he said. “We are going to open an office of trade and technology in Tegucigalpa soon. Now. Next week. There is this reciprocity of friends, genuine friends.”

In exchange for moving its Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem, Honduras reportedly demands Israel open an embassy in Tegucigalpa and deepen bilateral trade.

So far, only the US and Guatemala have moved their embassies to the capital. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Australia have trade office in the city, with varying diplomatic status. Slovakia, Brazil and Ukraine have pledged to open similar missions in Jerusalem as well.

The Palestinian Authority last week denounced Honduras’s opening of a diplomatic office in Jerusalem and threatened to formally complain about the move at the United Nations. A senior Palestine Liberation Organization official called it “a hostile act against the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights.”

The World Jewish Congress, on the other hand, hailed Honduras’s move as “praiseworthy.”

“It is more important than ever that Israel’s friends and allies embark on concrete gestures such as these in the face of increasing anti-Zionist sentiments around the world, including among some of the most influential agencies and bodies representing the international community,” the group’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, said.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, right, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, September 1, 2019 (courtesy Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

Earlier on Sunday, Hernandez prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. He was greeted there by the holy site’s Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, but was not accompanied by senior Israeli officials, which is often viewed as a tacit endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the flashpoint holy site.

“The State of Israel can consider Honduras a close sister. We now begin a new relationship,” Hernandez said after he concluded his visit, which included a lengthy prayer.

“Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to represent Honduras at this time, to promise the fellowship with Israel,” he wrote in the Western Wall guest book. “May this be the beginning of a blessing for our people. Thank you Israel, our brothers, who keep guard of this holy city. May peace keep spreading among the nations.”

Hernandez, a devout Christian, also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018, sparking a deterioration in the US’s relations with the Palestinians.

Moving an embassy to Jerusalem is highly contentious. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Most diplomatic missions in Israel are situated in or near Tel Aviv as countries try to maintain a neutral stance over the status of Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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