Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit of an army base in the West Bank settlement of Beit El near Ramallah January 10, 2017.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to attend the inauguration on January 1 of Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, a symbolic step that would signify a dramatic change in relations between the two countries.
According to the Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Netanyahu told Bolsonaro of his intent to attend the swearing-in ceremony during a congratulatory phone call he made to the president-elect on Monday.
“I congratulated him on his victory,” Netanyahu tweeted of his conversation with the new Brazilian leader. “I told him I’m certain his election will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and a strengthening of Brazil-Israel ties. We are waiting for his visit to Israel.”
Bolsonaro responded by posting on Facebook that “I’ve just received incredible words from the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as from [Israel’s] Ambassador Yossi Shelley. Our friendly ties will undoubtedly result in mutual agreements that will surely benefit both of our nations and citizens.”
Less than 24 hours after the announcement of his victory, Bolsonaro welcomed Shelley and the honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, for a private meeting in his apartment.
“It was an excellent, open conversation between friends,” Shelley told the media about Bolsonaro and Netanyahu’s talk. “They met only once, in Israel, two-and-a-half years ago, but it was possible to feel that there was more than a courtesy conversation. It was possible to feel that there was a chemistry.”
Bolsonaro, an Evangelical Christian, said during his campaign that Israel would be the first country he visited as president
, that he will move the country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and that he will close the Palestinian embassy in Brazil because Palestine is not a country.
“Last year I went to Israel for eight days,” he said in an i24 interview last month. “I felt it was another country with which we could develop closer ties. And I went to see what agriculture is like in a desert. How could a place with precipitation levels that are lower than in our northeastern regions have enough food for itself, and be able to export some of its food to Europe – and the northeast of Brazil is basically starving.”
He said that Israel and Brazil should “team up.”
If Netanyahu does attend the inauguration, it would be the first-ever visit by a serving Israeli prime minister to that country. Netanyahu was the first prime minister to visit Latin America when he went to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico in September 2017, but he skipped over Brazil during that trip. Brazil, under the leadership of the leftist Workers Party, has taken a strongly pro-Palestinian position for the last 15 years.
The last inauguration that Netanyahu attended was that of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta last November. Netanyahu planned to attend the inauguration of the new Colombian president, Ivan Duque, in August, but that was scrapped at the last minute because of tensions in the south. Just before Duque’s inauguration, Colombia’s outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos surprised and angered Jerusalem by recognizing Palestine as a state.
JTA contributed to this report
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