US vice president Mike Pence has told Israel’s parliament that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, receiving a rousing ovation as he pledged to forge ahead with a plan that has set off weeks of unrest and thrown peace efforts into disarray.
The plan to accelerate the move of the embassy, announced in the first-ever address of a sitting American vice president to the Knesset, marked the highlight of Mr Pence’s three-day visit to Israel celebrating President Donald Trump’s decision last month to recognise 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,” Mr Pence said.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and as such President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said adding the embassy “will open before the end of next year”.
The speech drew an angry denunciation from the Palestinians, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat saying it “has proven that the U.S. administration is part of the problem rather than the solution”.
Yet Mr Pence, in an interview after the speech, said he remained hopeful that the Palestinians would re-enter negotiations. “Our message to President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority is the door’s open. The door’s open. President Trump is absolutely committed to doing everything the United States can to achieve a peace agreement that brings an end to decades of conflict.”
The vice president said the US was “exploring a range of options” on the exact location of the embassy but that Mr Trump had been “very clear. He wants the American embassy to be open in Jerusalem before the end of next year”.
Mr Pence said the State Department would be providing more details in the “next several weeks”.
Mr Pence was preceded on the dais by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lavished his guest with praise and gratitude. It was all part of an exceptionally warm welcome for Mr Pence in Israel, which has been overjoyed by Mr Trump’s policy change on Jerusalem.
But the move has infuriated the Palestinians, with whom Mr Pence is not meeting, and upset America’s Arab allies as well.
A group of Arab politicians voiced their displeasure at the administration’s perceived pro-Israel bias by raising banners reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine” and hecklingPence at the beginning of his address. They were then forcibly removed from the plenum.
The main Arab party in the Israeli parliament warned that it would boycott Mr Pence. Its leader, Ayman Odeh, vowed they would not provide a “silent backdrop” to a man he called a “dangerous racist”.
An honor to speak before the Knesset in Jerusalem. @POTUS kept his word when he announced the United States will finally acknowledge Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Thanks to the Trump Admin’s leadership, the alliance between Israel & the U.S has never been STRONGER. #VPinIsrael pic.twitter.com/bvbaphLGjU
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 23, 2018
Mr Pence responded to the row by saying he was humbled to speak before such a “vibrant democracy,” before delving into his prepared remarks about the two countries’ unbreakable bond.
“I am here to convey one simple message: America stands with Israel. We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values and your fight is our fight,” he said. “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, good over evil and liberty over tyranny.”
Honored to speak at Knesset in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Announced our embassy will open in Jerusalem before end of 2019, urged Palestinian leadership to return to table to discuss peace & assured Israel we'll keep working to defeat radical Islamic terrorism #VPinIsrael pic.twitter.com/vt8cQaFONg
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 22, 2018
Mr Pence said the American administration urged the Palestinians to return to negotiations. “Peace can only come through dialogue,” he said.
Mr Pence said the U.S. would support a two-state solution but only if both sides support it. Mr Netanyahu’s hard-line government is dominated by opponents to Palestinian statehood, making such a scenario unlikely.