Following Trump, Guatemala Will Move Embassy to Jerusalem in May

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales says embassy move will happen two days after U.S., adds he's 'sure many other countries will follow in our steps'

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, March 4, 2018
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales announced on Sunday that his country will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following the United States as one of only a handful of nations to say it plans to do so.

>> Follow Haaretz's live updates from AIPAC 2018 <<

Speaking before the annual AIPAC conference, President Jimmy Morales said that "I would like to thank President Trump for leading the way" on Jerusalem. He said that Trump's "courageous decision" to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital encouraged other countries "to do what is right." He added that he is "sure many other countries will follow in our steps." 

The U.S. said it will move its embassy after Israel's marks its 70th Independence Day in May and Guatemala's leader said his nation would move their embassy two days after the Americans.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Morales for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and expressing willingness to move the Guatemalan embassy to the city. 

"Thank you for everything you do, for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We hope that in the near future you will transfer your embassy to Jerusalem," Netanyahu told Morales at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C.

Prior to the meeting, various news outlets had reported that Morales would announce a date for the embassy move. Israel's ambassador to Guatemala said in December that the country will move its embassy, but only after the United States does so.

Guatemala was one of only a handful of countries that backed Trump's December decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump's move reversed decades of U.S. policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies. 

Afterward, 128 countries defied Trump by backing a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution calling for the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem. 

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as their capital. 

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions. 

The United States is an important source of assistance to Guatemala, and Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the UN resolution. 

Prior to 1980, Guatemala and a dozen other countries maintained an embassy in Jerusalem. Israel's passage in June 1980 of a law proclaiming Jerusalem its "indivisible and eternal capital" led to a UN Security Council resolution calling on Guatemala and several other countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv, prompting their transfer. 

Morales said his decision to return the Guatemalan embassy to Jerusalem "strongly evidences Guatemala's continued support and solidarity with the people of Israel." 

Morales, a former television comedian with an important base of conservative Christian support in the Central American country, became embroiled earlier this year in a dispute with the United Nations when a UN-backed anti-corruption body in Guatemala tried to impeach him. 

Although Morales avoided impeachment, he failed in an attempt to expel the head of the body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, after criticism from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. 

Reuters contributed background to this story