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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Guatemala to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

The Central American country is heavily reliant on US funding 

Guatemala has chosen to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Getty Images
Guatemala has chosen to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Getty Images

Guatemala is to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, president Jimmy Morales said Sunday, following president Donald Trump's controversial lead on the holy city.

Guatemala's leader made the announcement on Christmas eve, three days after two-thirds of UN member states rejected Trump's decision to have the US recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Guatemala and Honduras are both reliant on US funding to improve security in their gang-ridden territories.

The two countries are, along with El Salvador, part of what is known as the Northern Triangle of Central America. Violence, corruption and poverty have made them the main source of illegal migration to the United States, which is giving them $750 million to provide better conditions at home.

According to USAID, Guatemala has some of the lowest social development indicators in Latin America as well as being "extremely vulnerable" to natural disasters and the impact of climate change. The US government organisation collaborates closely with the country's national and local government.

Morales, like Trump, was a television entertainer with no real political experience before becoming president of Guatemala in 2016.

On Friday, Morales foreshadowed the decision he was to make regarding Jerusalem, as he defended his government's vote at the UN backing the United States.

"Guatemala is historically pro-Israeli," he said at a news conference in Guatemala City.

"In 70 years of relations, Israel has been our ally," he said.

"We have a Christian way of thinking that, as well as the politics of it, has us believing that Israel is our ally and we must support it. Despite us only being nine in the world (in the UN vote), we have the total certainty and conviction that this is the right path."

Morales' position has become fragile in recent months because of allegations of corruption against him being investigated by a special UN-backed body working with Guatemalan prosecutors.

The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, had said her country would "take names" of the states opposing its position, and Trump threatened to cut funding to countries "that take our money and then vote against us."

Several significant US allies abstained from the UN vote, among them Australia, Canada, Mexico and Poland.

Others, such as Britain, France, Germany and South Korea were in the majority of 128 nations denouncing any unilateral decision to view Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

In all, 128 nations voted to maintain the international consensus that Jerusalem's status can only be decided through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The eight countries on the US side of the vote were: Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.

Following the US decision on Jerusalem, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he would "no longer accept" any peace plan proposed by the US, dealing a pre-emptive blow to a new initiative expected by Washington next year.

Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had no prior experience in government, with spearheading the complicated peace plan efforts.

Meanwhile, pop star Lorde has cancelled concert in Israel after fans of the singer sent her an open letter asking her not to play in Tel Aviv, according to local press.

In an email, the organisers of the June concert said the singer would post a message on Twitter to explain her reasons for the decision.