“I love the people of Israel and the state of Israel. I will promote contacts and very productive co-operation for both sides starting in 2019,” Brasil’s president vowed.
Congressman Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidency on promises to make several changes in Latin America’s largest nation, one of which is to foster closer relations with Israel.
He won just over 55 percent of the vote Sunday, compared to under 45 percent for the rival Workers’ Party.
In remarks to the Israel Hayom daily, apparently his first interview as president-elect with a non-Brazilian publication, Bolsonaro said that his campaign promises regarding Israel were not a gimmick.
Considered pro-Israel, Bolsonaro has vowed to move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and has said he would close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia. Inaugurated in 2016, the embassy is the Palestinians’ first diplomatic mission in the Western hemisphere.
‘Palestine isn’t a country’
“Is Palestine a country? Palestine is not a country, so there should be no embassy here,” Bolsonaro declared in August at the National Congress.
In his remarks published on Thursday, Brazil’s new leader said he is seeking to foster relations with other countries that share the values of “democracy and respect for others.”
He visited Israel two years ago and said earlier this year that a visit to the Jewish state would be his first diplomatic mission.
Israel’s ambassador to Brazil Yossi Shelly has already met with Bolsonaro twice this week. “I have always had excellent relations with him, and I am very happy that I am being treated so warmly and that an official representative of the state of Israel gives me such attention, and the reciprocity is real,” said Bolsonaro.
“I love the people of Israel and the State of Israel. I will promote contacts and very productive cooperation for both sides starting in 2019,” he vowed.
Asked about his pledge to consider recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he said that “Israel is a sovereign state, and if you decide on your capital, we will go accordingly.”
He added that “when I was asked during the campaign whether I would do so [recognize Jerusalem] when I became president, I replied positively, and that the one who decides on the capital of the State of Israel is you, not other nations.”
Regarding his plans to shutter the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia, he said the building “was built too close to the presidential palace … No embassy can be so close to the presidential palace, so we intend to move it from its place and there is no other way, in my opinion. Besides, Palestine has to become a state first to merit having an embassy.”
Bolsonaro also pledged to vote with Israel at the United Nations, where it faces numerous anti-Israel measures and is heavily outnumbered. “You can count on having our voice at the U.N. I know that many times the vote is almost symbolic, but it helps define the position that a state wants to stand behind. Be sure that you can rely on our voice at the U.N. in almost all the issues that concern the State of Israel.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday spoke by phone with Bolsonaro and congratulated him on his election.
“I am certain that your election will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and the tightening of links between Brazil and Israel. We await your visit to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
According to media reports, Netanyahu will fly to the country to attend his inauguration.