Skip to main content

Netanyahu in Rio: Brazil embassy move to Jerusalem matter of 'when, not if'

Still, neither man raised embassy issue when they spoke to journalists shortly after meeting on Friday
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro leave synagogue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro told him that it was a matter of "when, not if" he moves his country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The far-right Bolsonaro, who takes office on Tuesday and is hosting Netanyahu and the leaders of other countries in Rio de Janeiro for his inauguration, has said he would like to follow the lead of US President Donald Trump and move the embassy.

Bolsonaro has said he wants closer ties with the US and Israel, breaking with decades of centre-left policies which sought to position Brazil as a Latin American power nurturing relations with all countries.

Still, he has come under intense pressure from Brazil's powerful agriculture sector not to do so, as it could hurt Brazilian exports to Arab nations. Despite Netanyahu's comments, a senior official from Brazil's incoming government told Reuters on Sunday no decision had yet been made on the issue.

Such a move by Bolsonaro would be a sharp shift in Brazilian foreign policy, which has traditionally backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Arab League had told Bolsonaro that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be a setback for relations with Arab countries, according to a letter seen by Reuters earlier in December.

Brazil's important meat producers are worried that an embassy move could threaten $1bn in exports to Arab countries.

Those countries and Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. 

But Israel asserts all of Jerusalem is its capital and is keen to see embassies move there to bolster that claim.

"Bolsonaro told me it was 'when, not if' he moves the embassy to Jerusalem," Netanyahu said on Sunday during a meeting with leaders of Brazil's Jewish community in Rio de Janeiro.

Israeli police recommend Netanyahu and his wife be charged with corruption
Read More »

"We attach enormous importance to Brazil, and Brazil in the context of Latin America," he added. "This heralds a historic change."

He pointed to Trump following through with his promise to move his country's embassy and said: "Bolsonaro will also do so," AFP reported.

Netanyahu, who met with Bolsonaro on Friday, said that the Brazilian accepted his invitation to visit Israel, a trip that is likely to take place in March.

In their discussion on Friday, Bolsonaro and Netanyahu talked up their budding "brotherhood" which they said would boost military, economic, technological and agricultural cooperation.

Still, neither man raised the embassy issue when they spoke to journalists shortly afterward. Nor did they post anything on it on their Twitter accounts, despite Bolsonaro in particular being a fervent social media user.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil.

After he met the Israeli leader, Bolsonaro said: "We need good allies, good friends, good brothers, like Benjamin Netanyahu."