Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro arrives in Israel with embassy move on the agenda

He will walk a diplomatic tightrope during the three-day visit as he seeks to avoid angering key Arab trade partners

epa07475387 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, 31 March 2019. Jair Bolsonaro arrived for a four-day official visit to Israel.  EPA/ABIR SULTAN
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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro arrived in Israel on Sunday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the country’s election and as speculation grows that Brasilia will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Mr Bolsonaro was welcomed by Mr 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.

Mr 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, Mr 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," Mr Bolsonaro said.

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

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state. Israel claims the entire city as its own. The international community is of the majority view that its status should be decided in direct negotiations.

While moving the embassy would please Mr 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.

Mr Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil when he travelled there for Mr 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.

Mr 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.