Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed what he said would be a “new era” in ties with “great power” Brazil ahead of meeting Friday with the Latin America’s country’s incoming far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro.
Netanyahu also stressed that he would press Bolsonaro on an announcement — since walked back — that Brazil would follow the United States in moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“The president-elect (Bolsonaro) announced he would (transfer the embassy). You can be certain I will speak with him about that in our first meeting,” Netanyahu, speaking Hebrew, told reporters on his flight before it landed in Rio de Janeiro.
Netanyahu was to meet Bolsonaro for lunch in Rio on Friday on what was the first-ever visit to Brazil by an Israeli prime minister.
He will be one of the most prominent leaders attending Bolsonaro’s swearing-in on Tuesday in the capital Brasilia.
Other VIPs who will be there include Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Bolsonaro and his team have excluded the leaders of leftwing-ruled nations Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua from the inauguration.
– Meeting Pompeo –
Netanyahu was making the Brazil trip despite domestic political turmoil in Israel and a spike in military volatility in neighboring Syria.
Pompeo and Netanyahu are to discuss Syria while in Brasilia, an Israeli official and the US State Department said.
US allies including Israel were caught by surprise by President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement last week that he was pulling US troops out of Syria, where Israel’s arch-foe Iran has built up a significant military and political presence. Israel has made several aerial strikes in Syria against positions held by Iran and its Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
Domestically, Netanyahu is maneuvering to extend his reign in Israel despite a slew of corruption allegations. On Wednesday, Israel’s parliament approved a government decision to call early elections for April 9.
Both Netanyahu and Bolsonaro admire Trump, and are keen to forge closer relations between their countries. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton said the US president and Bolsonaro were “like-minded” individuals.
Netanyahu said Bolsonaro represented a “big change” for Brazil, which for decades had center-left and center-right governments that aligned with international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Jerusalem. In 2010 the country recognized a Palestinian state.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see eastern Jerusalem as the capital of its future state.
– Embassy decision –
After his October election, Bolsonaro reaffirmed an election promise to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, earning praise at the time from Netanyahu, who called it a “historic” announcement.
But Bolsonaro later backtracked by saying “it hasn’t been decided yet.” An embassy transfer could put at risk lucrative Brazilian poultry and halal meat exports to Arab countries.
Flying in to see Bolsonaro and raise the embassy issue, Netanyahu was laudatory.
Brazil, he said, “is an immense country with enormous potential for Israel from an economic, security and diplomatic point of view.”
He added: “We are happy to be able to start a new era between Israel and a great power called Brazil.”
His visit includes a day off on Saturday to observe Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.
Netanyahu is to fly back to Israel early on January 2, an Israeli official said.
The Israeli prime minister also serves as his country’s foreign minister. Last year he visited Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.