Brazil’s Bolsonaro Begins Israel Visit With Embassy Decision Pending

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sits nearby during a welcoming ceremony upon his arrival in Israel, at Ben Gurion International Airport, Sunday. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began a visit to Israel on Sunday with a decision pending on fulfilling a promise to move his country’s embassy to Yerushalayim, a policy change opposed by military officers in his Cabinet.

The four-day visit by the leader comes a week before Israel‘s election.

“I love Israel,” Bolsonaro said in Hebrew at a welcoming ceremony, with Netanyahu at his side, at Ben Gurion Airport.

Netanyahu said he and Bolsonaro would sign “many agreements,” including security deals, and that the Brazilian leader would visit the Kosel, “in Jerusalem, our eternal capital.”

Calcalist reported on Sunday that Brazilian state-run oil firm Petrobras was considering bidding in a new tender to explore for oil and gas offshore Israel and a final decision would be announced during Bolsonaro’s visit.

Earlier this month, a Brazilian government official told Reuters no decision had been made on the embassy move, but “something will have to be said about the embassy during the trip.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that a formal announcement might not come during the visit.

Visiting Brazil for the Jan. 1 presidential inauguration, Netanyahu said Bolsonaro had told him that moving the Brazilian Embassy in Israel to Yerushalayim was a matter of “when, not if.”

Like Netanyahu, Bolsonaro is an outspoken admirer of President Donald Trump, who moved the U.S. Embassy to Yerushalayim last May.

But in an interview in February, Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired army general, told Reuters that moving the embassy was a bad idea because it would hurt Brazil’s exports to Arab countries, including an estimated $5 billion in sales of halal food that comply with Muslim dietary laws.

Bolsonaro’s economic team and the country’s powerful farm lobby have advised against relocating the embassy to Yerushalayim.