Brazil embassy move to Jerusalem a question of 'when' not 'if' – Netanyahu

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (UPDATED) – Brazil will definitely move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, with only the date of the transfer to be decided, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said on Sunday, December 30, during a visit to Rio de Janeiro.

"It's not a question of 'if' but of 'when,'" Netanyahu told members of Rio's Jewish community, according to multiple Brazilian media.

He said Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro assured him of the move in a meeting on Friday, December 28.

The issue of the embassy has been hovering over Netanyahu's visit to Brazil, the first-ever by an Israeli prime minister. 

He arrived on Friday to hold talks with far-right Bolsonaro, who is to be sworn-in in a ceremony in Brasilia on Tuesday, January 1, 2019, with Netanyahu among the foreign dignitaries attending.

Bolsonaro said in early November he intended to follow the lead  of United States (US) President Donald Trump in moving his country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But then he backtracked, saying "it hasn't been decided yet."

Brazil's important meat producers are worried that an embassy move could see threaten the $1 billion in exports to Arab countries.

Those countries, and Palestinians, view east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. 

But Israel asserts all of Jerusalem is its capital and is keen to see embassies move there to bolster that claim.

Most countries, however, back Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to settle Jerusalem's status as part of a wider peace deal.

Following Trump

Trump broke with that consensus a year ago, and in May this year, the US embassy was established in Jerusalem. Guatemala followed suit two days later.

Bolsonaro has said he wants closer ties with the US and Israel, breaking with decades of center-left policies which sought to position Brazil as a Latin American power nurturing relations with all countries.

In their talks Friday, Bolsonaro and Netanyahu talked up their budding "brotherhood," which they said would boost military, economic, technological, and agricultural cooperation.

Neither man raised the embassy issue when they spoke to journalists shortly afterward, however. Nor did they post anything on it on their Twitter accounts, despite Bolsonaro in particular being a fervent social media user.

Instead Netanyahu said he had extended an invitation to Bolsonaro to visit Israel, which was accepted.

In the statement Sunday from his office, Netanyahu said Bolsonaro's trip would happen before March 2019.

On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister is to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks on the sidelines of Bolsonaro's inauguration.

Israel, and other US allies, were caught by surprise by Trump's abrupt decision this month to pull American troops out of Syria, where they had been fighting remnants of the Islamic State group.

Israel fears the vacuum will allow arch-foe Iran to make greater inroads into Syria, where it is allied with President Bashar al-Assad.

Netanyahu's Brazil trip came at a sensitive time for the leader, who is maneuvering to stay in power despite a slew of corruption allegations.

Israel's parliament last Wednesday approved his government's decision to call early elections for April 9.– Rappler.com