EghtesadOnline: U.S. President Donald Trump believes his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- a step that antagonized Palestinians -- will ultimately provide new momentum to Middle East peace talks, Vice President Mike Pence said.
Pence expressed confidence that Trump’s approach will help resolve the 70-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he opened a two-day visit to Israel at a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Monday morning. The vice president was scheduled to address Israel’s parliament in the afternoon, according to Bloomberg.
Trump is “convinced that by recognizing Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, that we would create that opportunity to move on in good-faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Pence told reporters.
The visit to Israel comes a week after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cursed Trump in a speech to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, saying the U.S. could no longer serve as a mediator with Israel. Abbas was in Brussels Monday to seek support for Palestinian statehood at a gathering of European Union foreign ministers.
Netanyahu said he was gratified Trump adopted Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, even as other heads of state have resisted the step.
“This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words: Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.
Asked about reports the U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv within a year, Netanyahu responded, “We can do it by next week." Pressed if he was serious, Netanyahu said: "No, but we want to do it."
Hours after Pence arrived late Sunday, Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem set fire to a poster of the vice president with the words, “Pence Go Home.”
Pence went to Israel after stops in Cairo and Amman, where he asked Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah to try to bring Palestinian Authority leaders back to the peace table, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Relations have become more complicated since Trump’s Dec. 6 statement on Jerusalem. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of their hoped-for state.
Palestinian Authority officials refused to meet with Pence on this visit, although Jerusalem is just a 20-minute drive away from their West Bank headquarters in Ramallah. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and a longtime spokeswoman, said the Trump administration “has dealt with the Palestinians with utter disdain and has given Israel everything it wanted and more.”
In Jordan, Pence told the king the U.S. administration favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “if the parties agree,” and takes “no position” on borders or other final-status issues. Abdullah conveyed his “concerns” about Trump’s Jerusalem move, saying the U.S. must now rebuild trust in the region.
Abbas’ Jan. 14 denunciation of Trump came after PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat presented what he said was a summary of the emerging U.S. peace plan, which Palestinians thought favored Israel. U.S. officials said after Abbas’s speech that the description of the peace plan was inaccurate.
“It’s looking pretty bleak,” said David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Middle East Project, who was in Ramallah during the PLO meeting.
“If there were any hopes for a breakthrough on a peace deal, I’d say that’s pretty remote after the Jerusalem decision,” said Makovsky, a member of the Obama administration’s peace-negotiations team.