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Will Lula's deepening relationship with the US affect Brazil’s support for Palestine?

March 1, 2023 at 2:26 pm

US President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Washington, DC, February 10, 2023 [ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

After years shaped by international isolation during the Bolsonaro era when the Brazilian president did not open new doors or build any bridges with other countries — Jair Bolsonaro didn’t even maintain Brazil’s existing foreign relations — his successor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva seeks to have kickstarted a new era. Lula took office just over two months ago for his third term. He asserted that the world had missed Brazil as it sank into international isolation. Bolsonaro’s foreign policy was against globalisation, which contributed to the reduction of Brazil’s diplomatic activities at the regional and international levels, and later reflected negatively on relations with the United States, China and Europe, among others.

US President Joe Biden invited his Brazilian counterpart to the White House, where they met on 10 February. This was the second time that Biden and Lula had met in person. On the first occasion, it was the then Vice President Biden who travelled to Brazil late in Lula’s previous presidential term, in 2009. Noticeably, Biden was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Lula on his victory in last year’s election.

Observers believe that Lula’s return will have a major impact on Brazil’s foreign policy; the president wants to reaffirm the strategic partnership with the US and strengthen the alliance between the two presidents. Biden and Lula also stressed the need to work towards solving shared challenges such as climate change, food security, economic development, the promotion of peace and security, and regional migration. They also promised to protect the Amazon rainforest and fight global warming, despite disagreements over Ukraine.

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One of the main points of convergence between the Biden and Lula administrations is the struggle against far-right extremism represented by Bolsonaro in Brazil and Trump in the US. Bolsonaro maintained close ties with former US President Donald Trump to please his evangelical electoral base, and to place himself alongside US policies and geopolitics. He played around a great deal with the imagery of power and positioned himself on the side of the powerful, no matter how negative the political cost may have been for Brazil. Lula told Biden during their White House meeting that the former president’s world “started and ended with fake news in the morning, afternoon and night.”

Lula, however, is eager to restore Brazil´s foreign relations around pluralism and international cooperation. During his election victory speech, he confirmed a return to balanced relationships with other countries, including the US. When he left office in 2010, he kept cordial, albeit at a distance, relations around the world, including the Middle East. Brazil views Arab-Brazilian links as well-established, deep-rooted, cultural, historical and socio-political relationships.

With regard to Palestine, President Lula has always declared his support for the Palestinian cause and worked for it since first taking office in 2003. It took just one day after his latest inauguration in January for Brazil to announce a fundamental shift in its diplomacy towards Palestine. It is back at the top of Brazil’s political priorities, after years of absence due to Bolsonaro’s pro-Israel policy. Lula did not wait long to fulfil his promise to the Palestinians.

Many Brazilian political analysts believe that Lula’s support for the Palestinian cause since he came to power means that it will not only be a priority for Brazil, but also for Latin America generally. However, concerns have been expressed that a deepening relationship with Biden and the White House will have an effect on Brazil’s pro-Palestine position.

It will not be easy for Lula because he seeks a balance between satisfying US demands and not fulfilling all of Washington’s requests. According to Latin America affairs specialist Ali Farhat, “The relationship between Brazil and America is based on conditions where Brazil cannot meet all that America requires, and Washington cannot meet all that Brazil wants.”

As President, Lula da Silva will want to keep Brazil’s main trading partner, China, satisfied too. He is trying to strike a balance and benefit from economic and environmental relations with America without losing his connections with China and Russia. He is scheduled to go to China later this month.

Lula’s visit to Washington was the first step in this delicate balancing act.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.