US Vice-President Pence’s ‘messianic’ Israel speech about Jerusalem embassy ‘a gift to extremists’ says PLO
His speech to Israeli parliament was disrupted by Arab members who held up protest signs, but were ejected from the house
US Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech to Israel has been denounced as “messianic” and “a gift to extremists” after he promised to speed up the movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem and slammed the Iran nuclear deal as a “disaster” on Monday.
“The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists and has proven that the US administration is part of the problem rather than the solution,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said on Twitter.
“His message to the rest of the world is clear: Violate international law and resolutions and the US will reward you.”
The remarks came after Pence vowed that the US embassy would be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 2019, highlighting a policy shift that has stoked Palestinian anger and international concern.
President Donald Trump last month recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said he would move the US embassy there – dismaying Palestinians who claim the eastern part of the city and angering Arab states across the region.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States embassy in Jerusalem – and that United States embassy will open before the end of next year,” 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.”
The speech was briefly disrupted, at the outset, by Israeli Arab parliament members who held up protest signs in Arabic and English, reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”, and were ejected by ushers.
Pence responded to the fracas by saying with a smile: “It is deeply humbling for me to stand before this vibrant democracy.”
Though shunned by the Palestinians, the Trump administration says it remains committed to helping them and Israel negotiate a peace deal. Those talks have been stalled for almost four years.
In his speech Pence also “strongly” urged Palestinians to come to the negotiating table, and said that “peace can only come through dialogue.”
Responding to Pence’s speech, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “If the United States wanted to a play a role of a mediator in the peace process it must be a fair mediator and it must abide by [international] resolutions.”
Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their own future state. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967 in a move not internationally recognised, regards all of the city as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.
Pence, who visited Egypt and Jordan before travelling to Israel, said that with its policy shift on Jerusalem, “the United States has chosen fact over fiction – and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace”.
It was the highest-ranking visit by a US official to the region since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration and gave Pence and Netanyahu an opportunity to highlight their own warm relationship for a conservative Christian American community that serves as a power base for the US administration.
Welcoming Pence to the parliament, Netanyahu said Israel and the United States “are striving together to achieve a true peace, lasting peace, peace with all our neighbours, including the Palestinians”.
The US vice-president also took the opportunity to assure Israeli lawmakers of the Trump administration’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
“I have a solemn promise to Israel, to all the Middle East and to the world – the United States of America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Pence said to applause from Israeli MPs.
The 2015 deal that was meant to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities was fiercely opposed by Israel, but backed by then US president Barack Obama.
Trump has fiercely criticised the agreement, accusing Tehran of not sticking to it and saying it still allows the Islamic republic to support terrorist organisations across the globe – including Israel’s long-standing enemies.
Earlier this month Trump again waived nuclear-related sanctions – as required every few months to stay in the agreement – but demanded European partners work with Washington to improve the terms of the deal.
“The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement,” Pence said.
“Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately.”
The other parties to the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union – have all said it is working and that Iran is complying fully with its commitments.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse