Pence to Israel: US embassy will move to Jerusalem in 2019

2018-01-23 12:38
US Vice President Mike Pence. (Jason Reed, Pool Photo via AP, file)

US Vice President Mike Pence. (Jason Reed, Pool Photo via AP, file)

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Jerusalem - US Vice President Mike Pence told Israel's parliament on Monday that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, receiving a rousing ovation as he pledged to barrel ahead with a plan that has set off weeks of unrest and thrown US 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 Pence's three-day visit to Israel celebrating President Donald Trump's decision in December 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," 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".

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The 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".

Palestinian reaction

Yet Pence, in an interview with The Associated Press 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 that the US was "exploring a range of options" on the exact location of the embassy but that Trump had been "very clear. He wants the American embassy to be open in Jerusalem before the end of next year."

Pence said the State Department would be providing more details in the "next several weeks".

Pence said the US would support a two-state solution but only if both sides support it. Netanyahu's hard-line government is dominated by opponents to Palestinian statehood, making such a scenario unlikely.

The Palestinians say the US is no longer an acceptable mediator, and they have pre-emptively rejected any peace proposal floated by the Trump administration, fearing it will fall far short of their hopes for an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, lands captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

The Palestinians have refused to meet with Pence.

In an expression of that snub, Abbas overlapped with Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening to 12:00 on Sunday, when the Palestinian leader flew to Brussels for a meeting with European Union foreign ministers.

There, Abbas is expected to urge EU member states to recognise a state of Palestine in the pre-1967 war lines and to step up involvement in mediation.

In Brussels, the EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said the aim was "to support an international framework to accompany direct negotiations", despite the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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