Netanyahu: ‘God bless’ Guatemala for Jerusalem move

As Central American nation pledges to relocate embassy, Netanyahu says it’s ‘just the beginning,’ other countries will follow

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

This 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)
This 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)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hailed Guatemala’s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, saying other countries will soon follow suit.

“God bless you, my friend, President Jimmy Morales. God bless both our countries, Israel and Guatemala,” said Netanyahu at the weekly Likud faction meeting in the Knesset.

Guatemala became the first nation to pledge to move its mission to Jerusalem since US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of the city as Israel’s capital and instructions to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv.

The Czech Republic has since recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

An aerial view of the Dome of the Rock, left, in the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s old city, and the Western Wall, center, the holiest site for Jews, October 02, 2007. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

“I told you recently there would be other countries that will recognize Jerusalem and move their embassies,” Netanyahu said, after reading out Morales’s official announcement to Likud MKs and reporters. “I repeat: There will be more, this is just the beginning.”

Guatemalan President Morales said on his official Facebook account on Sunday that after talks with Netanyahu, he had decided to instruct his foreign ministry to move the embassy from Tel Aviv 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.”

Earlier on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren applauded Guatemala’s announcement.

“Viva Guatemala! It takes courage for a superpower to stand up for justice and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. But it takes even more — immense guts — for a small nation to do that,” Oren wrote on Twitter. “People of Guatemala, the people of Israel will never forget your support and bravery.”

“Guatemala have shown they know very well that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel! I welcome their decision to bring their embassy to Jerusalem and thank them for their deep friendship,” said Rivlin. “We look forward to welcoming you to Jerusalem!”

Edelstein, who met with Morales during his visit to Israel in November 2016, also praised his “brave” move.

“I want to congratulate my friend, the President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales, on his brave decision to move his country’s embassy to the capital city Jerusalem,” said Edelstein. “In your decision, you proved that you and your country are true friends of Israel and that the ties that exists between us will become stronger and increase for the benefit of both sides.”

During the 2016 visit to Israel, Morales also met with Netanyahu and Rivlin.

“Latin America has always been friendly to Israel, but I think we’re at a position where these relationships can be far, far, far advanced,” Netanyahu told Morales during a public meeting at the Prime Minsiter’s Office in Jerusalem.

In July, Morales decorated the outgoing Israeli ambassador, Moshe Bachar, with the Order of Quetzal on the Grand Cross degree, the country’s highest honor, in recognition of his cooperation in strengthening the political dialogue between the Central American nation and the Jewish state.

Guatemala is home to about 1,000 Jews among a population of 15 million.

Guatemala was one 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 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 and Israel were joined by 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.

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.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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