Vice President Mike Pence has confirmed that the U.S. embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The vice president noted that Washington will intensify plans to make this happen within schedule in a speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday. Pence reiterated that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and said that president Donald Trump has directed the state department to begin preparations to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Pence did not give an exact date as to when this will happen but assured Israeli parliamentarians that everything possible will be done to expedite the matter. The remark, however, came under sharp criticism from parliamentarians belonging to the main Arab party in Israel. The lawmakers said that they would boycott the speech but later chose to attend. However, they showed their dissent by standing up during the address and waving their hands in disagreement before they were removed from the chambers by security.
Pence’s diplomatic tour in Israel started this week. The vice president met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early on Monday. Pence said that it was great to finally step into Israel’s true capital Jerusalem, a sentiment that was appreciated by Netanyahu. The Prime Minister thanked Pence and by extension the Trump administration for this “historic recognition” adding that the move will strengthen the American-Israeli alliance.
President Donald Trump announced last month the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the US. The move was highly condemned by global leaders including leaders from Palestine, a country that has engaged in decades of conflict with Israel. In a vote conducted by the UN, many countries resoundingly rejected Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem amidst threats from US permanent representative to the organization Nikki Haley.
The decision also didn’t sit well with US Arab allies in the Middle East. Many felt that the move raised unnecessary tensions. Pence visited Egypt and Jordan prior to his arrival in Israel. King Abdullah II of Jordan urged the vice president to reconsider the Jerusalem recognition saying that it was important to rebuild trust and confidence after this incident.
Nonetheless, Pence said that he was grateful to represent Trump in this visit. The vice president noted with optimism that the designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would provide the right opportunity for improved negotiations and peace talks in the Middle East. However, it’s highly unlikely that this will happen.
Soon after the announcement was made, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas strongly rejected the recognition and suspended any relationship with the US. The Palestinian president had also canceled a meeting with Mike Pence that was scheduled to take place in December last year to protest the move.
There were also pretests in Palestine opposing this decision with the EU calling on a practical negotiation framework to help solve contentious issues in the region. Protests against Pence’s arrival in the West Bank town of Bethlehem were also reported although they were relatively small.