World News

Guatemala Will Move Its Israel Embassy to Jerusalem, Following Trump’s Lead

Posted December 24, 2017 9:59 p.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2017 10:00 p.m. EST

MEXICO CITY — Guatemala will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, its president announced Sunday, becoming the first nation to follow President Donald Trump’s lead in ordering the change, which has been widely criticized around the world.

President Jimmy Morales announced the decision in a post on his official Facebook account, saying he had decided to move the embassy after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

“We spoke of the excellent relations we have had since Guatemala supported the creation of the state of Israel,” Morales wrote. “One of the most important issues was the return of the Guatemalan Embassy to Jerusalem.”

No other country has its embassy for Israel in Jerusalem, although the Czech Republic and Romania are said to be contemplating such a move.

Trump upended decades of U.S. policy with his decision on Jerusalem, aggravating an emotional issue that has festered since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when the Israelis occupied the entire city.

The consensus of international law is that Jerusalem’s status is unresolved, that claims of sovereignty by Israel are invalid and that the issue must be settled in negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trump insisted that he was merely recognizing reality and not prejudging negotiations on the future borders of the city, but Palestinians saw the move as siding with Israel on the most delicate issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Trump’s decision by a vote of 128-9, with 35 countries abstaining and 21 countries absent.

Trump had threatened to cut off aid to countries that did not take the side of the United States, but he has not yet done so, and experts say it would be difficult to do. Many Muslim-majority countries that voted for the resolution, like Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, are strategic partners of the United States in the region.

Guatemala was one of seven countries to join the United States and Israel in voting against the resolution, along with Honduras, Togo, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia — mostly tiny countries heavily dependent on U.S. aid.

Guatemala was one of the first nations to recognize the state of Israel upon its establishment in 1948.

Morales’ decision was immediately seen as an effort to curry favor with Trump and, perhaps, to distract attention from his political problems at home. His brother and his son are under investigation by an anti-corruption commission that has been strongly backed by the United States and the United Nations.

Morales has clashed with the commission and even tried to expel its chief in August before he was stopped by the country’s highest court.

The commission relies on a close relationship with Guatemala’s attorney general to pursue its cases. Washington will be watching to see whether a new attorney general, to be appointed next year when the term of Attorney General Thelma Aldana expires, will prove as committed to collaborating with the commission, known by its Spanish initials as the CICIG.

Winning the favor of the Trump administration could prove helpful to Morales if the new attorney general he selects proves less cooperative with the commission.

Guatemala is also awaiting the approval of aid under an Obama administration initiative set up to stem Central American migration to the United States.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and is home to sites important to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Under multiple Security Council decisions, East Jerusalem and the West Bank are considered occupied territory.

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