Brazil’s embassy move is a fresh blow to Palestinians
TUNIS - Brazil’s newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro reiterated that he would move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, intensifying division over the status of the holy city that both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to.
“As previously stated during our campaign, we intend to transfer the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter. “Israel is a sovereign state and we shall duly respect that.”
The move, which would make Brazil the third country to have an embassy in the city, comes as a fresh blow to the Palestinians. They are already struggling to cope with expanding Israeli settlements, internal political divisions and a US-backed peace plan in the making that they see as hostile to their interests.
Palestinians were also angered by Bolsonaro’s statements vowing support to Israel at the United Nations and questioning Palestinians’ right to an embassy in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital.
“Palestine needs to be a country to have the right to an embassy,” Bolsonaro told the Israel Hayom newspaper.
The pro-Israel pledges by Bolsonaro drew fierce condemnation from Palestinian officials, who fear changing political winds could jeopardise their case in any peace settlement.
“These are provocative and illegal steps that will only destabilise security and stability in the region,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri added on Twitter: “We reject the decision of Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro to move the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and we call him to reverse his decision. We consider this a hostile step against the Palestinian people and the Arabic and Islamic world.”
Bolsonaro’s foreign policy stance follows similarly contentious moves by US President Donald Trump, who has sought to remove the issue of Jerusalem from negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians.
Last December, Trump shocked many by announcing plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, a step that US leaders had long spoke of taking but never followed through on. The US Embassy in Jerusalem opened officially on May 14, 2018
That announcement drew fierce condemnation from international leaders and inflamed months of protests on the Gaza border in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed. It also emboldened other countries aiming to bolster ties with Israel to make the symbolic move.
Paraguay moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May but reversed that decision after the election of President Mario Abdo Benitez in August.
Guatemala, a close US ally, opened the doors of its embassy in Jerusalem a few days after the Americans. Romania, Honduras and Australia have reportedly considered making similar moves.
Israel views such political statements as key to its exerting leverage over Jerusalem, which it claims as an “eternal, undivided capital.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was overjoyed with Bolsonaro’s announced embassy move, hailing it as a “historic, correct and exciting step.”
“I told him I’m certain his election will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and a strengthening of Brazil-Israel ties. We are waiting for his visit to Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted of a phone conversation with Bolsonaro.
Central to the future of Jerusalem is a mayoral run-off November 13 between businessman Moshe Lion and former Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch, neither of whom indicated an intent to deviate from Netanyahu’s policy on Jerusalem.
Lion, with the support of much of Jerusalem’s Ultra-Orthodox community, looks poised to win the election, which is being boycotted by most Palestinian residents, who claim the political cards are stacked against them.
“Any Palestinian should refuse to be a part of them (the elections),” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told AFP. “We will not accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Aziz Abu Sarah, the only Palestinian candidate to have vied for the position, dropped out of the mayoral race a month before the election after his residency status was questioned.
“It seems that entrenched political interest groups on both sides hope to maintain the status quo and will stop at nothing to prevent forward progress,” he wrote on Twitter.