RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil's far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and while both pledged to deepen ties, there was no announcement as some anticipated of Brazil moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu, the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil, flew in to Rio de Janeiro to meet with Bolsonaro, an ideological ally who takes office on Jan. 1 after his election victory in October. The two men had lunch in a fort on Copacabana beach before delivering statements.
"Israel is the promised land. Brazil is the land of promise," said Netanyahu, adding that Israel could help in areas such as economics, security, agriculture, and water resources.
Bolsonaro and top aides have repeatedly said he would move Brazil's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but since his election he has come under pressure to ditch the idea from powerful backers in the agricultural sector, who fear the decision would hurt their halal meat sales in Arab countries.
The Arab League had told Bolsonaro that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be a setback for relations with Arab countries, according to a letter seen by Reuters earlier in December.
Such a move by Bolsonaro would be a sharp shift in Brazilian foreign policy as it was for the United States when President Donald Trump relocated the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in May. Brazil has traditionally backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some political observers had speculated that Bolsonaro would use Netanyahu's visit as the perfect way to make the announcement.
Bolsonaro discussed Israel during a meeting in Rio with Trump's national security adviser John Bolton late last month.
Although Bolsonaro could well make the announcement at a later stage, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday that the U.S. government expected him to eventually make the move.
"We also welcome President-elect Bolsonaro's comments regarding moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem in support of Israel's sovereign right to have its capital of Jerusalem recognised by nations around the world. We look forward to welcoming many more of our friends and allies in Jerusalem," the official said.
Netanyahu said he had invited Bolsonaro to visit him in Israel, and Bolsonaro said he intended to go next March.
"We will be starting a difficult government from January, but Brazil has potential," Bolsonaro said. "So that we can overcome obstacles, we need good allies, good friends, good brothers, like Benjamin Netanyahu."
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Additional reporting by Mary Milliken in Washington; Editing by Brad Brooks and Grant McCool)