Foreign Policy Blogs

Brazil and the Middle East

Photo: CRI English

Photo: CRI English

This week, President Lula kicked off his tour of the Middle East, the first time a Brazilian head of state has been to Israel. His visit began on Sunday in Israel, and Lula will continue on to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders and to Jordan to conclude his trip.

In Israel, President Lula will meet with President Shimon Peres, as well as the Prime Minister, opposition leaders, congressmen, NGOs, and business leaders during a three day visit. He will also attend a business conference and tour the Holocaust Museum. Israeli leaders are hailing Lula as a friend of Israel who they are hoping they can win both as a political ally and a trade partner.

Lula’s visit comes at a critical moment for Middle East politics: the unresolved issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Israel’s approval to allow Jewish settlers in the Arab sector of Jerusalem. Brazil and the US haven’t reached an agreement on how to proceed with Iran; during Hillary Clinton’s visit to Brasilia, she pressed Lula to get on board with sanctions, but he fears another Iraq situation and wants to try with dialogue instead. US Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week, pushing for new peace talks, before the Israeli government announced the constructions in East Jerusalem.

Essentially, the Brazilian government feels it could be a fresh new arbitrator in the Middle East peace process, hoping to become a key player in the Israel-Palestine negotiations and to neutralize Iran without sanctions or war. Given the US government’s lack of success in the peace process recently, and the continued wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Brazil feels it could be the right diplomatic player, a true neutral party to the peace process. Brazil also hopes that by becoming part of the peace process, it can continue to leverage power against the US and hopefully win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

While Israelis are likely to be suspicious of Lula’s plans, given his friendly relations with Iran, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz printed a relatively glowing profile of the Brazilian president on Friday in anticipation of his visit, despite criticism of his relationship with Ahmadinejad. The article points out the fact that Brazil’s 120,000 Jews live in peace with the 10 million Brazilians of Arab descent, and that Brazil’s diversity proves that peace is possible.

Lula’s enormous international popularity is likely to help him win support even amongst critics in the Middle East, but only time will tell if Brazil can make a meaningful impact on the peace process, and just as critically, on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Significant progress with Iran seems more likely, given the scope and duration of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and could be a real diplomatic win for Brazil if Lula can get it right.



Rachel Glickhouse

Rachel Glickhouse attended the George Washington University, where she studied Latin American Studies and Spanish at the Elliott School of International Affairs. She studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She spent two years living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after graduating in 2007. She now lives and works in New York.