Guatemala Embassy Will Move to Jerusalem Only After U.S. Move, Israeli Envoy Says

'It won’t happen tomorrow morning,' Israeli Ambassador to Guatemala Mattanya Cohen tells Israeli TV, and the move could take years

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

The Israeli ambassador to Guatemala, Mattanya Cohen, said on Tuesday morning that Guatemala would only move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after the United States moves it embassy. This could take years, said Cohen in an interview on Channel 10.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales had said on his official Facebook account Sunday that after talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to instruct his foreign ministry to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, making Guatemala the first nation to follow the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump in ordering the change. Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 7, adding that the U.S. embassy would be eventually be moved there from Tel Aviv.

>> Why the 'Donald Trump of Guatemala' will move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem | Analysis

Guatemala “may be the first country that will actually move its embassy [to Jerusalem] because the United States will not do so tomorrow morning or in the next half year,” Guy Meroz, the interviewer said to Cohen.

“Guatemala will be the second country to move its embassy after the United States,” Cohen said, correcting Meroz. “It won’t be the first.”

Meroz inquired, “Are you saying that it will be second after the United States, that is to say it will wait?” Cohen responded: “It won’t happen tomorrow morning. It will happen after the United States. That’s how they explained it to me. The announcement of the president and of the foreign minister was explicit that Guatemala would be immediately after the United States.

Only a day after Trump’ announcement, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is likely to take at least two years due to logistical reasons. Tillerson stated that the move probably won’t happen “this year or next year.”

He also said that Jerusalem’s “final status” will be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem actually could take at least three years if not longer, Tillerson said a few days later, citing logistical reasons. “Probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious,” he said, raising the realistic possibility that such a move would not take place during President Trump’s current term in office.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat met two weeks ago with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Barkat said the two spoke about the different options for the embassy’s location in Jerusalem. “We created a framework for us to think together about their options, and I ask that this stays discreet,” he said on Monday in an interview with Army Radio. “We met and we’re beginning some sort of process. We’ll do this at their request, and alongside them.”

Barkat also welcomed the decision by the Guatemalan president to move the country’s embassy to Jerusalem. “This is the first step,” he added.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Kan Bet public radio on Monday that Israel is talking with more than 10 countries about potentially moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem following President Morales’s announcement.

Hotovely told Haaretz that these discussions are initially focusing on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rather than on immediately moving their respective embassies. She refused to identify the countries, but noted that several of the talks are just beginning, while others are further along. Foreign Ministry officials confirmed Hotovely’s statements, adding that these conversations are taking place “with more than 10 countries, but not many more.” Israeli diplomats said on Monday they believed that Honduras would likely be one of the next countries to take a similar step.

Netanyahu thanked Morales when he spoke on Monday in the Knesset. “Last night I spoke with my friend, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales,” he said. “I thanked him for Guatemala’s support for us in the UN vote and I expressed my hope that he would follow in the footsteps of U.S. President Donald Trump, recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin to move the embassy to it.” He added: “I told you recently that there will be other countries that would recognize Jerusalem and announce the transfer of their embassies to it. Well here is the second country and I reiterate: It is only the beginning and it is important.”

Guatemala was not the first country to say it wanted to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Only a day after Trump’s announcement, the Czech Republic said it supported the move.

Czech Republic President Milos Zeman stated that now that the American president “proceeded in accordance with his election promise,” he is “truly happy.” Zeman added that, as he proclaimed during his visit to the Jewish state four years earlier, he “would appreciate the transfer of the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem, and had it happened, we would have been the first to do so.”

He also noted that the republic would be happy to follow suit after the U.S. moves its embassy. “Now we may follow the United States sooner or later,” he said. “In any case, it is still better than nothing.” Zeman expressed firm support of Israel, going on to add that “every country has the right to decide upon the location of its embassy – as a rule in that very capital, of course.”

But just a few hours later, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the Czech foreign minister promised her that his country will continue to support the EU’s position that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel and Palestine in the framework of a future two-state solution. Speaking at a press conference, Mogherini said she had spoken to Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Lubomír Zaoralek, who pledged that his country had no intention of moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite Zeman’s statement.

“I spoke to the Czech foreign minister myself and he pledged to me that the Czech Republic has remained with the EU position that Jerusalem is the future capital of the state of Palestine, meaning two states with Jerusalem as the capital of both,” Mogherini told reporters.

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