Apparent evangelical influence prompted Guatemala to join the United States in announcing it will move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, acknowledging that the city is the capital of the Jewish state.
The announcement by Guatemala President Jimmy Morales came on Sunday as many nations around the world celebrated Christmas Eve.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Morales is an evangelical Christian, and though Israel has always had strong ties with Guatemala, Morales is said to have brought those ties to a different level.
Mattanya Cohen, Israel’s ambassador to Guatemala, told Israel’sArmy Radio that the move was a result of the Central American nation’s large evangelical population’s influence and the developmental aid it gets from Israel.
Morales, after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that he decided to instruct his foreign ministry to move the country’s embassy.
“We spoke about the excellent relations that we have had as nations since Guatemala supported the creation of the state of Israel,” Morales wrote. “One of the most important topics was the return of the embassy of Guatemala to Jerusalem. So I inform you that I have instructed the chancellor to initiate the respective coordination so that it may happen.”
Israeli officials praised Guatemala’s decision.
“Viva Guatemala! It takes courage for a superpower to stand up for justice and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. But it takes even more — immense guts — for a small nation to do that,” Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren wrote on Twitter. “People of Guatemala, the people of Israel will never forget your support and bravery.”
“I congratulate my friend (Morales) on his bold decision to move his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” Israeli Parliamentary Speaker Yuli Edelstein wrote on Twitter. “Your decision proves that you and your country are true friends of Israel.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshoni also expressed Israel’s appreciation on Twitter: “Thank you Guatemala for your important decision to move your embassy to Jerusalem. Wonderful news and true friendship!!”
U.S. President Donald Trump made a historic decision in a Dec. 6 announcement to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the embassy there from Tel Aviv, thus implementing decades of dormant American policy.
Last week at the United Nations 128 nations voted for a resolution declaring the U.S. decision “null and void.” Guatemala, Israel and the United States were some of nine nations that voted against it, in addition to Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo. Thirty-five nations abstained and 21 missed the vote entirely.
Guatemala, with a population of 15 million, is home to about 1,000 Jews.