Palestinians condemn Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro for Western Wall visit, calling for Arab reprisals

The Brazilian leader became the first to visit the site with a sitting Israeli head

TOPSHOT - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touch the Western wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in the Old City of  Jerusalem on April 1, 2019. Bolsonaro arrived in Israel just ahead of the country's polls in which his ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tough re-election fight. / AFP / POOL / Menahem KAHANA

Palestinians have condemned Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after he became the first head of state to visit the Western Wall, part of Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, with a sitting Israeli prime minister on Monday.

The right-wing leader of Brazil is in Israel for a three-day visit ahead of what is expected to be a closely fought election for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 9.

He was expected to aid Mr Netanyahu before the vote by announcing the relocation of Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem, but stopped short.

He instead established a trade, technology and innovation office there.

But visiting the Western Wall went further, making him the first leader to go to the site, which sits in the territory that Israel occupied in 1967, alongside an Israeli leader.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-ranking US official to do so on a visit last month.

"It is provocative to all Palestinians," Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi told The National. "The visit a week before elections in Israel is direct interference."

The wall is the closest that Jews can pray to the Haram Al Sharif, which remains controlled by a Jordanian-Palestinian Islamic trust, after Israel captured the territory from Jordan.

Israel later annexed East Jerusalem in a move widely condemned by the international community.

So Mr Bolsonaro's visit was a tacit nod to Israeli sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of any future state.

Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official, called for Arab countries to retaliate against Brazil for Mr Bolsonaro’s actions, comparing him to US President Donald Trump.

“Bolsonaro finds himself on the right wing of life that makes him closer to Netanyahu and to Mr Trump," Mr Shaath said.

"That’s not how things should be calculated between Brazil and the Arab world.

“What we expect our Arab brothers to do is to start with some reproach, some reprimand and tell them it is contrary to our relationship.

"It should be at least an awakening as to how it will affect the relationship between Brazil and the Arab world.”

Mr Bolsonaro has expressed his strong support for Israel and spoken of being moved by a Christian pilgrimage to the Jordan River he undertook a couple of years ago.

He has also pledged to follow in Mr Trump's footsteps and move Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem, but that is on hold for now.

Mr Shaath compared the Palestinians’ call for action from the Arab world to that which met Australia when its government considered relocating its embassy to Jerusalem.

Australia chose to later only recognise West Jerusalem as Israeli.

Any reprisal “should be coupled with commercial relations, economic relations", he said. “We’ve invoked this with the Australians.”

Moving the embassy would please Mr Bolsonaro's evangelical Christian support base, but would also risk commercial retaliation from Arab states, some of which are major importers of Brazilian meat.

But Mr Shaath said that Mr Bolsonaro’s actions were even more concerning than trade relations, because they touched on the most sensitive subjects of the decades-long conflict.

“Jerusalem is such a touchy, important holy place to everybody that actions like this just suddenly create a huge amount of displeasure, a huge amount of disapproval that it takes a lot to fix it,” he said.

“We talk about exports and imports, but the question of the walls of Jerusalem, the mosques of Jerusalem and the churches of Jerusalem – then you are touching on something that goes back years.”