Guatemala announces embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Jimmy Morales, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands. Picture: ABIR SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Jimmy Morales, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands. Picture: ABIR SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images
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Guatemala’s president announced on Christmas Eve that the Central American country will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, becoming the first nation to follow the lead of US President Donald Trump in ordering the change.

Guatemala was one of nine nations that voted with the United States and Israel last Thursday when the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding resolution denouncing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Trump did not set any timetable for moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and neither did Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales.

President Morales said that after talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to instruct Guatemala’s foreign ministry to move the embassy.

He made the announcement on Facebook. Noting the “excellent relations” between Guatemala and Israel, he said “one of the most important topics was the return of Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem”.

“For this reason I am informing you that I have given instructions to the foreign ministry that it start the necessary respective coordination to make this happen,” he added.

However, he did not say when the move would happen.

Israel has welcomed the announcement, with the foreign ministry saying it was a sign of “true friendship”.

Guatemala and Israel have long had close ties, especially in security matters and Israeli arms sales to Guatemala. No other country has their embassy for Israel in Jerusalem, though the Czech Republic has said it is considering such a move. Trump upended decades of US policy with his 6 December announcement that he was recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Though Trump said he was merely recognising reality and not prejudging negotiations on the future borders of the city, Palestinians saw the move as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and is home to sensitive religious Jewish, Muslim and Christian sites. Many governments have long said that the fate of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations.

Trump’s announcement has set off weeks of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces that have left 12 Palestinians dead.

Netanyahu has predicted others would follow the US led. He has made great efforts to reach out to Latin America as part of a campaign to counter longstanding support for the Palestinians at the United Nations. The resolution passed by the General Assembly 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.

Meanwhile, the singer Lorde has cancelled a performance in Israel scheduled for next summer after appeals by pro-Palestinian activists.