Washington/Tel Aviv: US President Donald Trump will formalize his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by transferring the US embassy there from Tel Aviv in 2019, vice president Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament.
“In the weeks ahead our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, and that United States embassy will open before the end of next year," Pence said in a speech on Monday to the Israeli Knesset, eliciting gasps of approval from the audience. Trump had directed the state department to “immediately begin preparations" for the move, Pence said.
The visit to Israel comes amid a boycott by Palestinian Authority officials, who want the eastern part of Jerusalem as their own capital and say Trump’s move has disqualified the US as a mediator. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Brussels on Monday, where he urged European Union (EU) countries to “swiftly" recognize a Palestinian state.
Earlier in the day, Pence had expressed confidence that Trump’s approach will ultimately provide new momentum to Middle East peace talks.
“By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction – and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace," he said at the Knesset. He noted that Trump, in his 6 December statement, had stressed the two sides would have to work out the borders of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, as well as other final-status issues, between themselves.
Netanyahu, who met with Pence at his office before the Knesset speech, said he was gratified Trump had adopted Israel’s claim to Jerusalem even as other heads of state resisted the step.
“This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words: Israel’s capital, Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.
The subject’s sensitivity was evident throughout Pence’s visit. A brief fracas erupted just before he addressed the Knesset as Israeli Arab lawmakers, holding signs declaring Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, left the chamber in protest. On Sunday night, Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem set fire to a poster of the vice president with the words, “Pence Go Home."
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary general Saeb Erekat called Pence’s speech “a gift to extremists" that had shown the Trump administration “is part of the problem rather than the solution."
“His message to the rest of the world is clear: Violate international law and resolutions and the U.S. will reward you," Erekat said via Twitter.
Pence arrived in Israel after stops in Cairo and Amman, where he asked Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah to try to bring Palestinian leaders back to the peace table, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In Brussels, Abbas told European officials that recognizing a Palestinian state would give his people hope and “open the doors to peace."
“There is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations," he said, standing alongside EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Last week, Abbas cursed Trump at a meeting of the PLO central council after Erekat presented a purported summary of the emerging US peace plan, which Palestinians say favours Israel. US officials said the description of the peace plan was inaccurate.
“It’s looking pretty bleak," said David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Middle East Project, who was in Ramallah during the PLO meeting.
“If there were any hopes for a breakthrough on a peace deal, I’d say that’s pretty remote after the Jerusalem decision," said Makovsky, a member of the Obama administration’s peace negotiations team. Bloomberg