Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP | US Vice President Mike Pence pledged to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by the end of 2019 on Monday in a speech to Israel’s parliament that saw Arab lawmakers expelled after they shouted in protest.
As Pence spoke, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas arrived to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, urging them to “swiftly” recognise the state of Palestine.
Pence’s speech, filled with biblical references and praise of Israel, was greeted with loud applause by Israeli Jewish lawmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Referring to the 1948 founding of Israel, he said US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the country’s capital last month “righted a 70-year wrong”.
The decision has drawn near global condemnation and deeply angered the Palestinians, who have refused to meet with Pence on his visit.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States embassy in Jerusalem,” Pence said.
“And that United States embassy will open before the end of next year.”
As Pence was set to begin his speech, a group of around a dozen Arab Israeli lawmakers shouted in protest, with some holding signs saying Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.
They were escorted out by security agents as Netanyahu and others stood and applauded their expulsion.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, denounced Pence’s speech as “messianic” and a “gift to extremists”.
Pence’s visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a US military facility near the Syrian border.
Arab outrage over Trump’s Jerusalem decision on December 6 had prompted the cancellation of several planned meetings ahead of Pence’s tour.
Abbas and other Palestinian leaders refused to meet Pence, making his visit a rare one by a high-ranking US official not to include talks with the Palestinians.
– ‘Dear friend’ –
Israel has enthusiastically welcomed the vice president, with Netanyahu calling him a “dear friend” and praising what he described as the strongest ever ties between the two countries.
Earlier Monday, Pence was given a ceremonial welcome in a tent outside Netanyahu’s office, with an honour guard and military band.
In remarks afterwards, Pence said he was “hopeful that we are at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict that has affected this region.”
Netanyahu again lauded the Jerusalem decision.
“I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of world leaders and (to) welcome them, all of them to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words, ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,'” Netanyahu said.