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Middle East

Israel in touch with ‘10 countries’ over Jerusalem embassy moves after Guatemala follows Donald Trump’s lead

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely did not name the countries, but public radio cited Israeli diplomatic sources as saying Honduras, Philippines, Romania and South Sudan were among states considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 11:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 7:16pm

Israel said it was in touch with “at least ten countries” over the possible transfer of their embassies to Jerusalem after Guatemala said it would follow US President Donald Trump’s controversial lead on the holy city.

“We are in contact with at least ten countries, some of them in Europe” to discuss the move, deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely told public radio Monday.

She spoke a day after Guatemala said it would move its embassy to the city, a move slammed by Palestinian officials as “shameful”.

Hotovely said Trump’s statement would “trigger a wave” of such moves.

“So far we have only seen the beginning,” she said.

Hotovely did not name the countries in question, but public radio cited Israeli diplomatic sources as saying Honduras, the Philippines, Romania and South Sudan are among states considering such a move.

Two-thirds of United Nations member states on Thursday voted for a resolution rejecting Trump’s controversial move, reaffirming that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations.

Israel seized the eastern part of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.

Several mainly Latin American countries had diplomatic missions in Jerusalem until a 1980 UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s attempt to alter the “character and status” of the city, saying it was a barrier to peace.

Trump’s announcement on December 6 sparked anger in the Palestinian territories and across the Muslim world.

Israelis see the whole of the city as their undivided capital while the Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state.

No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem, instead keeping them in the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv.

Guatemala President Jimmy Morales wrote a message to Guatemalans on his Facebook page Sunday, saying he had spoken with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that “one of the most important topics was the return of Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem”.

“For this reason I am telling you that I have given instructions to the foreign ministry … to make this happen,” Morales wrote.

On Monday, the foreign ministry said it was implementing the order.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received the presidential order and is starting the process of implementing this foreign policy decision,” it said in a statement.

Netanyahu on Monday hailed the decision, saying Guatemala would not be the only nation to follow Washington’s lead.

“Other countries will recognise Jerusalem and announce the relocation of their embassies. A second country did it and I repeat it: there will be others, it’s just the start and it’s important,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

In all, 128 nations voted to maintain the international consensus that Jerusalem’s status can only be decided through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Only eight countries stood with the United States in voting against the resolution in the UN General Assembly, among them Guatemala and fellow Central American country Honduras.

Guatemala and Honduras are both reliant on US funding to improve security in their gang-ridden territories.

Violence, corruption and poverty have made the two countries, along with El Salvador, the main source of illegal migration to the United States, which is giving them US$750 million to provide better conditions at home.

Morales, like Trump, was a television entertainer with no real political experience before becoming president of Guatemala in 2016.

Morales’s position has become fragile in recent months because of allegations of corruption against him being investigated by a special UN-backed body working with Guatemalan prosecutors.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had said her country would “take names” of the states opposing its position, and Trump threatened to cut funding to countries “that take our money and then vote against us”.

Several significant US allies abstained from the UN vote, among them Australia, Canada, Mexico and Poland.

Others, such as Britain, France, Germany and South Korea were among the nations denouncing any unilateral decision to view Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Along with Guatemala and Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo were on the US side of the vote.

Following the US decision on Jerusalem, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he would “no longer accept” any peace plan proposed by the US, dealing a pre-emptive blow to an initiative expected by Washington next year.