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  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. April 1, 2019

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. April 1, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 April 2019

Brazil's President Bolsonaro says the country won't move its embassy to Jerusalem, but will open a trade and technology center there, like Hungary.

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro says his nation will not transfer its diplomatic embassy to Jerusalem, but instead will create a business center there to “promote (Brazilian) business (and) investment,” said the head of state.

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On the first day of Jair Bolsonaro’s four-day trip to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Brazilian leader announced the country has establisehd a trade center in Jerusalem "to promote business, investment, technology and innovation," not an embassy as the president had promised throughout his 2018 campaign.

Bolsonaro made the announcement April 1 to clarify a statement made by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who tweeted the previous day, “Obrigado for opening a diplomatic office in Jerusalem!” captioning a picture of himself and his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Faraujo, shaking hands.

Palestinian Ambassador in Brasilia Ibrahim Alzeban told Reuters that a response was still under consideration, but that from what he was told, "it will depend on how (Bolsonaro's) visit evolves." Alzeban added: "We wish that the subject of Jerusalem had not been touched upon."

The ambassador said Palestinians are upset Bolsonaro did not consider a visit to the Palestinian territories and did not coordinate his trip with authorities there.

Netanyahu, who is facing several charges of corruption and April 9 parliamentary elections in a potentially tight contest, thanked Bolsonaro for the measure and insisted it was a "first step" for a future Brazilian embassy in Jerusalem.

During Bolsonaro's visit the two leaders are expected to visit an Israeli drone factory whose machines have the capability to conduct facial recognition.

Just days after his presidential win last September, the Brazilian president tweeted, “we intend to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel is a sovereign country and we respect them.”

The change of plan was likely made on economic grounds as Brazil has become the world’s biggest producer of halal meat and poultry allowed for consumption by Islamic law. The South American country is expected to export some US$20 billion in halal meats by 2020 to 22 Muslim-majority Arab countries surrounding Israel.  

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Last January Rubens Hannun, president of the Arab-Brazil Chamber of Commerce in Brazil, told Reuters that relocating the embassy could create “noise” in Brazil’s trade relations with these Arab countries. In other words, the billion dollar halal goods industry in Brazil could suffer economic backlash from an embassy transfer.  

Brazil’s business center plan follows that of the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia that have recently opened, or said they will, open trade or cultural centers in the Jerusalem.

The United States and later Guatemala constructed their respective embassies in the city that U.S. President Donald Trump declared the capital of Israel. The diplomatic move rolls back decades of negotiations by international leaders to make East Jerusalem, which was illegally annexed by Israel in 1980, the capital of a future Palestinian state.

   


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