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Guatemala's president announces embassy move to Jerusalem in May

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales said he will move his country's embassy to Jerusalem two days after the US will.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales

Guatemala's president has announced that he will move his country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, two days after the United States will do so.

Speaking on Monday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee ((AIPAC) conference in Washington DC, Jimmy Morales said that the embassy move "strongly evidences Guatemala's continued support and solidarity with the people of Israel".

"In May of this year, we will celebrate Israel's 70th anniversary, and under my instructions, two days after the United States moves its embassy, Guatemala will return and permanently move its embassy to Jerusalem," Morales said. 

On May 15, Palestinians will mark Nakba Day, the annual commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.   

The move of the embassy will take place on May 16, with the Guatemalan president adding that he is "sure many other countries will follow in our steps".

Morales also thanked US President Donald Trump for "leading the way ... His courageous decision has encouraged us to do what is right," he said.

Trump's administration announced their recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital last December, breaking with decades of official US policy.

The decision led to the outbreak of protests throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, resulting in the deaths of at least 16 Palestinians by the Israeli army during the same month.

The move also drew worldwide condemnation. The international community does not recognise Israel's annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, and 128 countries backed a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution that called for the US to rescind its move.

Guatemala was only one of the handfuls of countries to vote against the resolution, after the US had threatened to withdraw financial aid to countries who voted otherwise.

It was also the first country to back Trump's decision on Jerusalem. The country's close relations with the US is largely defined by its dependency on US financial support. 

Furthermore, the local economy depends on money sent by hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans living in the US, with remittances reaching $8bn in the last year - roughly three-quarters of the Guatemalan budget.

For their part, the Palestinian foreign ministry described the Central American country's announcement as "shameful and illegal".

Prior to 1980, 13 countries had their embassies in Jerusalem. Yet after Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem as its "indivisible and eternal capital", a UN Security Council resolution called for these countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv.

During his time in office from 1993-1996, Guatemala's former President Ramiro de Leon Carpio - a big supporter of Israel - had ordered the transfer of his country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Yet he was forced to reverse his decision after Muslim-majority countries threatened to suspend buying Guatemala's biggest export, cardamom.


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