Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

Honduras agrees to advance Jerusalem embassy move talks after Netanyahu pressure

The small Central American nation wants to follow Trump’s much-criticised move

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez during a meeting in Brasilia, Brazil January 1, 2019. Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez during a meeting in Brasilia, Brazil January 1, 2019. Reuters

Honduras has agreed to hold talks with Israel and the United States about opening an embassy in Jerusalem, seeking to follow the much-criticised move of US President Donald Trump but risking the ire of the Arab world.

The decision came after pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his trip to court Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Mr Netanyahu and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez held a meeting in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, on the sidelines of the inauguration of the right-wing Brazilian leader.

The three agreed to hold meetings in the capitals of each country "to advance the decision process to open embassies in both Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem," as well as "strengthen political relations and coordinate development cooperation in Honduras," the countries said in a joint statement.

Honduras, if it moved the embassy, would be only the third country to relocate its diplomatic mission to Jerusalem after the US and Guatemala. Paraguay briefly moved its embassy but a new government reversed that decision in September.

Its right-leaning leader wants to join the US and Guatemala in joining Mr Trump’s decision despite criticism from Arab nations and international censure about unilaterally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state. The majority of the international community deems that the status of the city should be decided in bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Mr Hernandez said that the talks over the move represented an “important political alliance”. In return, Mr Netanyahu had agreed to open up the Israeli market to exports of Honduran coffee.

“The US, Israel and Honduras are uniting as Strategic Allies, committed to the development and security of their peoples,” he wrote in a tweet. “The alliance will have great results and positively impact the Honduran people.”

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Honduras is trying to court Washington after falling foul of the president over illegal immigration into the US. Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off aid to Honduras, a poor nation of less than 10 million people, over caravans of migrants crossing Mexico heading for the US border.

When the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to oppose the US decision to relocate the embassy in December 2017, Honduras was one of only eight countries to vote against the resolution. The only other countries to do so were Togo, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.

According to Mr Netanyahu, Brazil is also close to moving its embassy to the city. He said that Mr Bolsonaro told him it was a matter of “when, not if” Brazil moved its embassy to Jerusalem. The Arab League has warned Brasilia against the move, warning that it could harm trade ties with Arab nations.

Mr Netanyahu has also lobbied intensely for Australia to move its embassy. But Canberra said it would only recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and did not move its embassy to the city, keeping it in Tel Aviv.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said he was considering the move but his U-turn was met with dissatisfaction in Israel, where he had largely been expected to join the US in moving the mission.

Updated: January 3, 2019 10:39 AM

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