JERUSALEM – Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed on Monday US Vice President Mike Pence and thanked him for the recent US decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that the latter said would occur before the end of 2019.
Netanyahu told Pence he was grateful for the decision by US President Donald Trump, thanking the vice president for his part in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, an act that sparked widespread protests in which at least 30 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces and thousands more wounded or imprisoned.
“I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of world leaders and welcome them, all of them, to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” said Netanyahu. “This is the first time that I’m standing when both leaders can say those three words: ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.’”
Pence, on the other hand, told the Israeli parliament that his country’s embassy in the Middle Eastern nation would relocate in accordance with the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – made in defiance of numerous United Nations resolutions and the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords – before the end of 2019.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and as such, President (Donald) Trump has instructed the State Department to commence preparations to move the US embassy to Jerusalem,” Pence said.
Arab-Israeli lawmakers boycotted Pence’s speech and were expelled from the chamber amid heavy protest.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed, as the capital of their future state.
Earlier in the day, Pence said that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would “create an opportunity to move on in good faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
Pence reiterated his willingness to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict and to discuss common interests, such as the security and prosperity of Israel and the US.
No other nation had moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – although Guatemala announced its intention to do so following Trump’s lead – and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians mandated that the city’s final status be settled by negotiations.
Palestinians, who on Sunday burned pictures of Pence during protests, have called for a general strike on Tuesday to protest the visit.
The president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, snubbed Pence’s visit and was in Brussels on Monday in search of support from the European Union.