(CNSNews.com) – Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced in Washington on Sunday that his country will follow President Trump’s lead on Jerusalem and move its embassy to the city – two days after the U.S. does so in May.
Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, Morales said the decision shows his country’s solidarity with the people of Israel “and we are sure that many countries will follow in our footsteps.”
He noted that Guatemala has historically had a strong pro-Israel record.
When the U.N. voted on November 29, 1947 to partition the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River into a Jewish state and an Arab one, Guatemala, he recalled, “promoted and was among the first to cast their vote for the establishment of the State of Israel.”
In 1959, Guatemala was the first nation to open an embassy in Jerusalem, and on December 24 last year, it was first to join the U.S. and announce it would return its embassy to the city.
“I would like to thank President Trump for leading the way. His courageous decision has encouraged us to do what’s right,” Morales said. “It’s important to be among the first, but it is more important to do what is right.”
He said it was Guatemala’s sovereign decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and in May – as Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary – “two days after the United States moves its embassy, Guatemala will return and permanently move its embassy to Jerusalem.”
Morales, an evangelical Christian who met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington over the weekend, left the podium to a standing ovation.
Trump’s announcement last December recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and signaling plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv – a longstanding requirement in U.S. law which presidents up to now have waived – prompted an angry response from many countries.
The U.N. General Assembly then adopted a resolution condemning the decision and demanding that the move be rescinded.
Guatemala was one of just eight countries to vote with the U.S. against that measure, which passed 128-9. (The eight were Israel, Guatemala’s neighbor Honduras, the small African country of Togo, and the Pacific island nations of Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia.)
“Even though there were only nine of us from across the world, we have total certainty and conviction that this is the correct route,” Guatemala’s official news agency quoted Morales as saying after the vote.
Netanyahu at the time voiced optimism that more countries would follow Trump’s lead.
The Czech Republic recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital shortly after Trump’s December 6 announcement. There has been no word yet on an embassy move.
Two decades of waivers
In the 1947 U.N. partition resolution cited by Morales, Jerusalem was to fall under special U.N. administration, separate from the envisaged Jewish and Arab states. Jewish leaders accepted the U.N. plan but Arab states rejected it, and five Arab armies launched a war with the declared aim of destroying the newly-declared state of Israel.
When the war ended, Israel controlled western Jerusalem and Jordan occupied eastern parts of the city. It was divided for 19 years, until reunited remained under Israeli administration during the 1967 Six Day War.
The Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future independent state in Jerusalem.
The international community does not recognize Israeli control over eastern Jerusalem, but countries have largely refused to locate their embassies even in the supposedly uncontested west of the city.
Guatemala was one of 13 countries to move their embassies out of Jerusalem in 1980, in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution responding to passage of an Israeli law declaring Jerusalem its “eternal, undivided capital.”
After that exodus, Bolivia, Costa Rica and El Salvador were the last countries to keep their embassies in Jerusalem, until finally withdrawing them a little more than a decade ago.
In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed by large margins a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stating that “the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”
That date came and went, and President Clinton issued a six-monthly national security waiver to delay compliance. He and his successors have issued 37 more over the ensuing years, the most recent by Trump in December.
The issue has featured in presidential election campaigns for more than two decades, and aspiring presidents who pledged to move the embassy if elected included Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as unsuccessful candidates John McCain, Mitt Romney, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
The State Department says the embassy move will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.
In the Hebrew calendar, this year’s independence day actually falls on April 18-19, but in the Gregorian calendar May 14 is the date the state of Israel was declared in 1948.
The embassy will initially operate out of an existing U.S. consular facility, in the suburb of Arnona. The newly-completed complex, which includes a 1,000 square meter consular section and parking for 200 vehicles, straddles what was no-man’s land between Israeli- and Jordanian lines from 1948-1967.
The State Department says by the end of 2019 a new embassy annex will open at the Arnona facility, and that a search for a site for a new, permanent embassy has already begun.