Guatemala not ‘moving,’ but ‘returning’ to Jerusalem, says Foreign Minister Jovel

Guatemala’s foreign minister forcefully denies speculation that her country was pressured in any way to follow Trump’s lead on Jerusalem.

By: Batya Jerenberg

Three weeks after President Donald Trump declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that the US would start the process of moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced his own embassy’s move in a Facebook post on Sunday evening.

On Wednesday, his foreign minister, Sandra Jovel, held a press conference in Guatemala City to deny that any pressure was brought to bear on Guatemala to do so. “There wasn’t any pressure. There wasn’t any overture from the United States to make this happen,” she said. “This was a decision by the government, the state and the foreign policy of Guatemala.”

Jovel was adamant that there was no quid pro quo involved in the decision. “We are friends and historical allies with Israel … We have asked nothing of Israel or the United States.”

She also made a point of stating that Guatemala was not “moving” to Jerusalem, but rather “returning.” The Central American state was one of only 16 countries to establish its embassy in Jerusalem after being one of the first countries to recognize Israel de facto after the state was declared.

It left in 1980, in a period of more strained relations, when the Knesset passed the Basic Law on Jerusalem, which stated that the city would remain the “complete and united capital of Israel.” At the time, in a move reminiscent of last week’s General Assembly vote rejecting Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, the UN Security Council condemned that Basic Law as being a violation of international law and passed Resolution 478, calling upon member states to remove their diplomatic missions from the city, which Guatemala then did.

In last week’s vote, Guatemala was one of only seven nations to join the US and Israel in rejecting the UN’s condemnation. Historically, the country has had close relations with Israel, especially in the field of security. Morales has now brought the two countries even closer. Israel was the first Western country he visited after gaining office, when he signed bilateral agreements in agriculture, science and development.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly thanked Morales for his declaration of recognition, saying that this was “just the start” and “there will be others.” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that her ministry was in touch with 10 other countries that were thinking of following in the footsteps of the US, although she would not name them while discussions were ongoing.