BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazil opened a commercial representation office in Jerusalem on Sunday. The measure is a retreat from the promise to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Tel Aviv to the inevitable Palestinian capital of Jerusalem.
The announcement was made during a visit by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a frank admirer of President Donald Trump, who broke the global consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in late 2017 and moving the US embassy there.
Bolsonaro promised that he would do the same, not only to show loyalty to Donald Trump, but because it was a pre-election promise he made to the powerful Evangelical minority in Brazil who constitute at least 27% of the population. That could have been a boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hopes to win a fifth term in an election next week.
But senior Brazilian officials later turned away from the idea for fear of undermining trade ties with Arab countries.
“Brazil has decided to create an office in Jerusalem to promote trade, investment, technology and innovation as part of its embassy in Israel,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Like most countries, Brazil has an embassy in Tel Aviv.
“I hope, and I would like to believe, that this [office] is the first step towards the opening of the Brazilian embassy in Jerusalem when the time comes,” Netanyahu told reporters.
Bolsonaro did not comment on his change of plans. His son and federal deputy Eduardo said it took months for Trump to transfer the US embassy. “We are on the right track,” Eduardo said on Twitter.
Greeting Bolsonaro at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said he and the Brazilian leader will visit the Holy Wall of Lamentations “in Jerusalem, our eternal capital.”
“I love Israel,” Bolsonaro said in Hebrew at the ceremony. He later told reporters his Christian devotion to the Holy Land and the sense of cultural and ideological affinity with Israel.
Brazil does not officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Most of the world powers say that the status of the city should only be decided as part of a peace process with the Palestinians.
Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the territories, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned the opening of the Jerusalem office by Brazil, calling it “blatant violation of international legitimacy [and] direct aggression against our people and their rights.”
Visiting Brazil for the January 1 presidential inauguration, Netanyahu said Bolsonaro had told him that transferring the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem was a matter of “when, not if”.
But Bolsonaro’s economic team and the country’s powerful agricultural lobby have not advised it.
Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a former retired general, told Reuters last month that the embassy would be a bad idea because it would hurt Brazilian exports to the Arab countries, including $5 billion in sales of halal food that complies with the laws for Islamic food.
Separately, on Sunday, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, will participate in Israel’s latest auction for offshore oil and gas exploration.