Guatemala is one of the few countries backing the US and Israel over their position on Jerusalem. The small Central American country has a large evangelical population and relies on US assistance.
Guatemala will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, becoming the first country to follow the United States in a controversial move.
In a post on his Facebook page on Christmas Eve, President Jimmy Morales (photo left) said he had made the decision to instruct the foreign ministry to move the embassy after speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo right).
Guatemala was one of only nine nations that voted with the United States and Israel last Thursday against a UN General Assembly resolution that overwhelming rejected President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Morales also followed the United States in not setting an exact date for when the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem.
Israel's Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move in both English and Spanish on his Twitter feed on Monday, explicitly thanking Morales.
Aid and evangelicals
Guatemala is a close ally of the United States and receives considerable assistance.
The Trump administration threatened to cut assistance to countries that voted against the United States and Israel at the UN.
Despite being Catholic in the colonial era, Guatemala now has one of the largest evangelical Christian populations in Latin America due to proselytization from American missionaries.
Morales is an evangelical and received a scholarship to study from the evangelical aid organization World Vision. He won the presidential election in 2015 after the previous president and vice president resigned and were jailed on corruption charges. He ran his campaign under the slogan of "neither corrupt nor a thief."
The Guatemalan president also had his own run-in with the UN this year when a UN-backed anti-corruption body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, tried to impeach him. While he avoided impeachment, Morales did not succeed in expelling the Commission's head.
Evangelicals and the Second Coming
Jerusalem holds special meaning for evangelical Christians, who account for about 25 percent of the US population, according to the PEW Research Center. Evangelicals form a key support base for Trump and conservative US politicians.
Most US evangelical Christians believe that according to the Bible's messianic prophecies, Jews must be supported, which explains their backing for Israel's control of Jerusalem. Some believe this will set the stage for the apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ.
On the other hand, Munib Younan, the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, has denounced the United States' unilateral move to recognize Jerusalem.
cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)