US Vice President Mike Pence has told Israel’s parliament that the US embassy in the country will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
He sparked fresh anger during the visit to when he said it was an honour to be in “Israel’s capital, Jerusalem”. President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital at the end of last year, turning his back on decades of US foreign policy and sparking protests across the region.
The announcement by Mr Pence, who also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, involves a shorter timeframe than had been previously highlighted by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said it would likely take “three years” for the move to happen.
“The United States has chosen fact over fiction – and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” Mr Pence said, using similar strength of language to that of Mr Trump when he initially announced the move – language which has drawn international condemnation.
“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.
“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,” he added.
Mr Pence’s speech drew an angry denunciation from the Palestinians, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat saying it “has proven that the US administration is part of the problem rather than the solution”.
“The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists”, Mr Erekat wrote on Twitter. “His message to the rest of the world is clear: violate international law and resolutions and the US will reward you.”
Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City, as the capital of their own future state. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967, believes the city is its “eternal and indivisible capital”.
A group of Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protested Mr Pence’s arrival by burning posters with his image.
Mr Pence delivered a speech to the Israeli Knesset after his meeting with Mr Netanyahu – with the Israeli Prime Minister saying he was the first US vice president to be afforded the honour.
Israeli Arab parliamentarians protested against Mr Pence’s speech by standing and holding signs in Arabic and English saying, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”, before being swiftly ejected from the session.
The Knesset, which is accustomed to such high-profile visits, had added a new layer of security ahead of Mr Pence’s appearance.
Before the protest, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, a political alliance of four Arab-dominated parties, said the group will not provide a “silent backdrop” to a man he called a “dangerous racist”.
That was in stark contrast to the Israeli Prime Minister, who told Mr Pence it was the first time a visiting dignitary could use the word “capital” in regards to Jerusalem and thanked Mr Pence for Mr Trump’s “historic” recognition of the city.
Mr Netanyahu also praised the American-Israeli alliance, saying it had “never been stronger”.
Mr Pence was greeted with the American national anthem and he spoke briefly with Israeli soldiers before beginning his meeting with Mr Netanyahu.
He said he was grateful to be representing the US President and that his decision to designate Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would “create an opportunity to move on in good faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.
He added that he hoped “we are at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to a decades-long conflict”.
But Palestinian leaders have so far sought not to engage with US officials following the move by Mr Trump.
After Mr Trump’s initial Jerusalem announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not meet Trump administration officials and called off a meeting with Mr Pence. Mr Abbas overlapped with Mr Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening to midday on Sunday – with Mr Pence having visited Egypt and Jordan before Israel – but was instead heading to Brussels to meet European Union officials.
In a sign of the discord that Mr Trump’s decision has created, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, assured Mr Abbas on Monday that the EU supported his ambition to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Ms Mogherini, the subject of her words seemingly clear, called on those involved in the process to speak and act “wisely”, with a sense of responsibility.
“I want to reassure President Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states,” Ms Mogherini said.
Before Mr Abbas’s arrival, she was was less veiled, saying: “Clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. That is a very diplomatic euphemism,” in reference to Mr Trump’s position.
However, as with Mr Pence, Ms Mogherini said she still wanted to work with the United States on Middle East peace talks and had discussed ways to restart them late last year with Mr Pence and Mr Tillerson.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an adviser to Mr Abbas, reiterated that the United States “is no longer acceptable as a mediator” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Agencies contributed to this report
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