Bolsonaro’s Israel embassy move: high-risk mix of religion, politics

A photo taken on October 28, 2018, shows the Israeli and Brazilian flags hanging outside the building housing the offices of the Brazilian Embassy, in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Bolsonaro’s Israel embassy move: high-risk mix of religion, politics

  • Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria and Jordan, has never been internationally recognized
  • Brazilian evangelicals follow Christian Zionism, the belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel was in accordance with a biblical prophecy announcing the return of the Messiah

RIO DE JANEIRO: In announcing his intention to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, President-elect Jair Bolsonaro may please his evangelical Christian support base, but would break with a half century of diplomacy.
In following the lead of his US counterpart Donald Trump, the incoming president of Latin America’s biggest country would not only isolate the country diplomatically but also run the risk of provoking commercial retaliation from Arab states, some of which are major importers of Brazilian meat.
“Brazil has been supporting a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine for more than 50 years and this decision could throw all those efforts into the bin,” said Guilherme Casaroes, a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think-tank.
Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria and Jordan, has never been internationally recognized.
The United Nations maintains an ambiguous position over any eventual final status for the sacred city — cherished by the three major Abrahamic religions — but a 1947 resolution says it should become a “corpus separatum,” run independently of either Israel or the Palestinians.
To that end, no embassies should be established there until a solution has been agreed upon by both sides.
That was the line followed by Brasilia until Bolsonaro won a second-round run-off election against leftist candidate Fernando Haddad on October 28. He will be inaugurated as Brazil’s president on January 1.
“For me, it’s just about respecting the decisions of a sovereign nation,” Bolsonaro said in a television interview on Monday.
However, he performed an almost Trumpian about-turn on Tuesday by insisting that “it hasn’t been decided yet.”

Were he to abandon that controversial plan, he would risk alienating the religious support that helped propel the far-right Bolsonaro to a commanding victory with 55 percent of the vote.
And for them, the status of Jerusalem is sacrosanct.
The most conservative evangelicals see Israel as “the center of all history,” a sort of ideal, to which “there is an attachment and a need to defend Israel as a chosen people,” said Ronilso Pacheco, a theological researcher at Rio de Janeiro’s PUC Catholic University.
“That’s an extremely literal reading of the Bible without taking into account context, history.”
Brazilian evangelicals follow Christian Zionism, the belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel was in accordance with a biblical prophecy announcing the return of the Messiah.
Although born into a Catholic family, Bolsonaro married an evangelical Christian and went to Israel in 2016 to be baptized in the River Jordan by a pastor.
However, piety is not the only reason for Bolsonaro to move the embassy, much to the delight of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“On top of the symbolic value for evangelicals, this measure shows a desire to break from a traditional foreign policy based on multilateral relationships,” said Monica Herz, professor at PUC’s international relations institute.
For her, following in Trump’s footsteps suggests Brazil is “aligning itself with the American government, something we didn’t even do during the military dictatorship.”

A former army parachutist, Bolsonaro has made no secret of his admiration for Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ruled from 1964-85.
His Israeli overtures have a secondary motivation as Bolsonaro is a fan of Israeli’s advanced military technology.
His son, Flavio and newly-elected Rio governor, Wilson Witzel, are due shortly to travel to Israel to negotiate the purchase of attack drones which could subsequently be used by security forces in the fight against drug-traffickers.
Casaroes, though, believes “Brazil could get closer to the US and Israel without transferring its embassy.”
Ricardo Ferraco, a member of the external relations commission in Brazil’s congress, said recently that he felt Bolsonaro had been too quick to make his promise, “without reflecting on the consequences.”
Meanwhile, the Arab Brazilian chamber of commerce has already expressed its concern given Brazil is the biggest producer in the world of hallal meat, much of which is exported to Arab countries.
The Palestinian envoy to Brazil, Ibrahim Alzeben, said on Monday that he hoped Bolsonaro had merely been electioneering and that the incoming government would “maintain Brazil’s traditional position.”


UK PM May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

Updated 23 min 55 sec ago
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UK PM May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

  • May reached out to rival parties night shortly after surviving a no-confidence vote
  • May’s olive branch offer came after a hectic 24 hours that saw her Brexit deal defeated

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May scrambled to put together a new Brexit strategy on Thursday with cross-party talks after MPs sparked political turmoil by rejecting her previous agreement with the EU.
May reached out to rival parties on Wednesday night shortly after surviving a no-confidence vote, hoping to hammer out a Brexit fix that she could present to parliament on Monday.
Just over two months remain before the world’s fifth-largest economy is due to leave the EU, its closest trading partner, after 46 years.
But the island nation is still embroiled in many of the same arguments that were raging when voters defied government warnings and voted to leave in a 2016 referendum.
May’s olive branch offer came after a hectic 24 hours that saw her Brexit deal defeated by a historic margin in one vote and her government then cling on to power in a second one, by a narrow margin of 325 to 306.
May conceded in a Wednesday night television address to the nation that Britons might find the political upheaval “unsettling.”
She called on the opposition Labour party and its smaller pro-EU allies “to put self-interest aside” and attempt to find a solution to end the deadlock.
“The government approaches these meetings in a constructive spirit and I urge others to do the same,” she said.

Immediate hurdles

But May ran into immediate hurdles as top MPs set out demands and conditions contradictory to the government’s current stance.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would only sit down with May if she ruled out the possibility of a “no-deal Brexit.”
That scenario would see trade barriers go up overnight as existing agreements between Britain and the EU expire on March 29.
May’s meetings late Wednesday with top MPs from the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties also yielded fresh demands.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is trying to rule out “no-deal” and secure a second referendum, which could only be held if Brexit is postponed.
“For any discussion between your government and the SNP to be meaningful, these options must be on the table,” SNP parliament leader Ian Blackford said in a letter to May released after their meeting.
But Liberal Democrat chief Vince Cable said May showed a strong desire to engage with her parliamentary foes.
“I think in the current state of crisis that is a positive,” Cable told BBC Radio.

Brexit principles

May herself hinted on Wednesday that Brexit might be postponed if London rallies around a single set of proposals that it could present to the other 27 EU leaders.
She told parliament that Brussels would allow this “if it was clear that there was a plan toward moving toward an agreed deal.”
The British pound has rallied over the course of the week on expectations of a delay to Brexit.
Such a postponement would stop the UK immediately crashing out of the world’s largest single market.
But May has so far stuck to two Brexit principles that — if broken — could see more members of her own Conservative party revolt: limiting EU migration and pursuing an independent trade policy.
Both of those red lines are at odds with opposition hopes for membership of an EU customs union or its single market.
“We can’t stay in the current EU customs union,” Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis told BBC Radio.