Brazil is set to become the third nation—after the U.S. and Guatemala—to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's newly inaugurated president, announced during a television interview Thursday that his country would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The decision comes shortly after a high-profile state visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the Times of Israel.
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"Israel is a sovereign state and we must respect it," Bolsonaro told Brazi's SBT. "Only Israelis have the right to decide what the capital of Israel will be."
Asserting that the decision was "taken" and it was "only a matter of time [before] it would be implemented," Bolsonaro stated that only "extremist Arab countries" would object to the move.
"A large part of the Arab world is aligned or aligning itself with the United States," Bolsonaro said. "The Palestinian issue is already overloading people in the Arab world for the most part … the only weighty voice speaking out against me is Iran."
The decision poses a dramatic shift in Brazil's relationship with Israel, which has been frayed since the administration of President Lula da Silva recognized the existence of an autonomous Palestinian state in 2010. It remains unclear if Bolsonaro's government will rescind that recognition or continue to allow the Palestinian Authority to hold a diplomatic outpost in Brazil's capital.
A former military officer and member of the Brazilian parliament, Bolsonaro ran and won his country's presidency on a platform of disrupting the status quo when it came to foreign relations. To that end, he pledged to cut Brazil's longstanding ties to repressive left-wing dictatorships, such as Venezuela, and move the country closer to the orbit of western democracies.
Unabashedly the most pro-Israel candidate for the presidency since at least the 1980s, Bolsonaro asserted throughout his campaign that "Palestine" is "not a country" and that Brazil should follow the U.S.'s initiative and recognize Jerusalem as Israel's rightful capital.
In December 2017, the Trump administration announced its intention to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The decision was controversial as the Palestinian Authority has viewed the eastern portion of Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.