Guatemala’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital leaves President Jimmy Morales closer to the United States at a time his stock has fallen at home due to corruption allegations raised by U.N.-backed investigators.
Defying overwhelming international rejection of President Donald Trump’s decision to move his embassy to Jerusalem, Guatemala and Honduras were the only nations in the Americas to back him in a U.N. General Assembly vote last week.
Increasingly isolated at home, Morales won friends in Washington by aligning himself with Trump, although he runs the risk of backlash from Arab countries, which import the costly spice cardamom from Guatemala.
Morales on Christmas Eve said he would follow Trump in moving Guatemala’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“This is a pretty low-cost way for Morales to make sure the Trump administration is on his side,” said Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.
Morales is no stranger to international controversy.
In August, the former TV comedian came under fire from the United Nations, the European Union and the U.S. ambassador in Guatemala for attempting to expel a U.N.-backed prosecutor seeking to put him on trial for alleged corruption.
The investigation into allegations of illicit campaign financing – which followed separate graft probes into members of the president’s family – had threatened to condemn Morales to impeachment.
Morales escaped that fate but he had to back down over a bid to eject the head of the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, and his authority has been seriously undermined.
Morales, an evangelical Christian, says the Israel policy is a principled stand in the tradition of Guatemala’s longstanding support of Israel.
“Even though there were only nine of us in the whole world who backed (Trump’s position) we’re totally sure this is the right path,” Morales said of the U.N. vote. Eight other nations opposed the resolution condemning the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and 128 voted for it.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their own state.