After US embassy makes controversial move to Jerusalem, more countries follow its lead

(L to R) Sara Netanyahu and her husband Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin applaud as Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and his wife Hilda Patricia Marroquin cut the ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018.

Ronen Zvulun | AFP | Getty Images
(L to R) Sara Netanyahu and her husband Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin applaud as Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and his wife Hilda Patricia Marroquin cut the ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018.

The United States received intense international criticism on Monday when it celebrated the opening of its embassy in Jerusalem. It was the first country to make the “provocative” move from Tel Aviv.

But on Wednesday, Guatemala joined the U.S. in moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

More countries are preparing to make the leap. Paraguay‘s Foreign Ministry announced that its embassy will also relocate to Jerusalem, while the Czech RepublicRomania and Honduras reportedly considering the move.

These smaller countries, especially those in Latin America, may be looking to cement good relations with the U.S. in hopes of preserving foreign aid and trading status. Some are also enhancing relationships with Israel, which has courted some of them with aid and even arms sales.

Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute, said that he doesn’t believe the U.S. pressured countries like Guatemala into moving, but the U.S. embassy opening did make it possible for these countries to do so without “bearing the political cost.”

The U.S. took a political hit in December when the United Nations voted to condemn President Donald Trump‘s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which angered leaders throughout the Middle East.

Palestinian protests turn violent

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting that rebuked Israel after its forces killed more than 60 Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border the same day the U.S. unveiled its new embassy. Monday also marked the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, a day the Palestinians call Nakba, or Day of Catastrophe.

Palestinians have been protesting at the Gaza border since March, asserting that they also have a claim on Jerusalem, which has deep significance to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.

With the U.S. bearing the brunt of the international blowback, smaller countries that have had historically close ties to Israel are able to consider making their moves, but Cristol said this does not signal a mass relocation of embassies to Jerusalem.

Countries like Guatemala and Paraguay have something to gain by moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Jon Alterman, a senior vice president and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that Israel has long courted smaller countries.

“It has conducted extensive outreach in Africa, for example, and it has ties throughout Latin America,” Alterman said in an email.

Cristol said these smaller countries have received developmental assistance or arms sales, so “they’ll do better with a close relationship with Israel.”

Cristol also noted that Latin American countries, including Guatemala, have Evangelical Christian heads of state, so it is a “natural inclination” for those countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem.

Evangelical connection

Some evangelicals believe the transfer of the embassy and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will help bring about the so-called Rapture, an event in which they believe all Christians, living and dead, will join with God, the Independent wrote.

Evangelical Christians supported Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy, according to CNN.

But would larger countries like RussiaChina and Western Europeannations make the move?

“I would be very surprised,” Cristol said. “I would be astounded, frankly, if the major Western European powers, with the possible exception of the United Kingdom, would move their embassies any time soon.”

Cristol mentioned the UK as a possibility because the current British government is more conservative than other European powers and it “has a fairly large, but often overlooked, Christian constituency that is highly supportive of Israel,” he said.

Cristol added that Russia and China are also unlikely candidates. Those countries will continue to do business with Israel regardless of where their embassies are located, he said, “so why take the risk?”

If any of them do make future moves to Israel, however, they will need to do what the Trump administration did not do, Alterman said, “which is to explicitly state that the embassy is located in West Jerusalem and endorse the idea of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Going forward, Israel will surely encourage more countries to move their embassies, Alterman said.

And for some countries “on a practical level, Jerusalem is the capitol of Israel,” Cristol added.

Most Israeli government officials and offices are located in Jerusalem, so countries with embassies in Tel Aviv have to travel to do business.

Relocating to Jerusalem is a smart money move for smaller states, making things more “effective and efficient,” Cristol said.

“Tel Aviv is only about an hour away,” he added, “but also sort of a world away.”

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