Brazil's Bolsonaro arrives in Israel for pre-vote visit

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stands next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a welcoming ceremony upon his arrival in Israel, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 31, 2019. REUTERS

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrived in Israel on Sunday just ahead of the country's polls in which his ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tough re-election fight.

Bolsonaro was welcomed by Netanyahu and an official ceremony at the airport near Tel Aviv.

He will walk a diplomatic tightrope during the three-day visit as he seeks to shore up ties with Netanyahu while avoiding angering key Arab trade partners.

Bolsonaro's controversial pledge to move Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem is expected to be high on the agenda, as Netanyahu uses the occasion to boost his standing ahead of April 9 elections.

Months after promising the shift, which sparked an angry response from Palestinian leaders, Bolsonaro has yet to announce a timetable.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Bolsonaro suggested he was in no hurry to make a decision.

"Trump took nine months to decide, to give his final word, so that the embassy was transferred," Bolsonaro said.

"Perhaps now we will open a commercial office in Jerusalem."

While moving the embassy would please Bolsonaro's evangelical Christian support base, it would run the risk of provoking commercial retaliation from Arab states, some of which are major importers of Brazilian meat.

Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil when he travelled there for Bolsonaro's January 1 inauguration.

In their discussions then, the two right-wingers talked up their budding "brotherhood" which they said would boost military, economic, technological and agricultural cooperation.

Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from centrist former military chief Benny Gantz in Israel's elections and is also under threat of indictment on corruption allegations.

 

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Brazil's Bolsonaro arrives in Israel for pre-vote visit

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