Israel praises Guatemala over Jerusalem embassy move

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 25, 2017 3:51 AM

JERUSALEM/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales drew praise from Israeli officials on Monday for deciding to relocate the Central American country's embassy to Jerusalem, a move in step with U.S. policy in a dispute over the city's status.

In a short post on his official Facebook account on Sunday, Morales said he had decided to move the embassy from Tel Aviv after talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec 6, reversing decades of U.S. policy and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

On Thursday, 128 countries defied Trump by backing a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem.

"I congratulate my friend (Morales) on his bold decision to move his country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem," Israeli Parliamentary Speaker Yuli Edelstein wrote on Twitter. "Your decision proves that you and your country are true friends of Israel."

Guatemala and neighboring Honduras were two of only a handful of countries to join Israel and the United States, which has pledged to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in voting against the U.N. resolution.

Israel's ambassador to Guatemala, Matty Cohen, said on Army Radio that no date had been set for the embassy move, "but it will happen after" the United States relocates its own embassy to Jerusalem. U.S. officials have said that move could take at least two years.

The United States is an important source of assistance to Guatemala and Honduras, and Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the U.N. resolution.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, writing on Twitter, thanked Morales for what she described as "his courageous decision". She said she was confident that other countries would follow his lead.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

Prior to 1980, Guatemala - along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, The Netherlands, Panama, Venezuela and Uruguay - maintained an embassy in Jerusalem.

Israel's passage in June 1980 of a law proclaiming Jerusalem its "indivisible and eternal capital" led to a U.N. Security Council resolution calling upon those countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv, prompting their transfer.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Bill Barreto in Guatemala City; Editing by Hugh Lawson)