- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2018

Vice President Mike Pence told Israel’s parliament Monday that the U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, an announcement cheered by Israelis and protested by Arabs as he pledged to accelerate President Trump’s plan.

In the first address by a sitting U.S. vice president to the Knesset, Mr. Pence said the president has made clear since recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month that the embassy move, promised but never fulfilled by previous American presidents, is a priority for Mr. Trump.

“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,” Mr. Pence said. “The United States has chosen fact over fiction — and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting with Mr. Pence, “This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words: ‘Israel’s capital Jerusalem.’”

He called Mr. Pence’s speech a “powerful expression of the enduring bond between our two countries.”

The move has been sharply condemned by Palestinian leaders, Arab nations and European powers, all arguing the declaration undercuts a negotiated two-state solution to the long-running dispute and undermines Washington’s role as a neutral arbiter n the conflict.

Mr. Pence’s address drew an angry denunciation from Arab Israeli lawmakers, who were thrown out of the Knesset after holding banners proclaiming “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine” as Mr. Pence began his speech.

Other lawmakers applauded loudly to drown out the shouts from the demonstrators, in a scene that included angry pushing and shoving. As ushers removed the protesting lawmakers, Mr. Pence, who has already visited Egypt and Jordan on his Middle East tour, continued his speech, saying he was “humbled to speak before such a vibrant democracy.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Mr. Pence’s speech “has proven that the U.S. administration is part of the problem rather than the solution.” And rather than meet the vice president, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Brussels to urge the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state.

“This would encourage the Palestinian people to keep hoping for peace and to wait until peace is brought about,” Mr. Abbas told reporters in Belgium.

But Mr. Pence, in an interview with The Associated Press after the speech, said he remained hopeful that the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table.

“Our message to President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority is the door’s open,” he said.

The Jerusalem embassy is to be opened in an existing U.S. facility that will be “retrofitted” to meet safety and security requirements, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein told reporters in Washington. He said Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had yet to sign off on the safety plan for the new facility but would do so in coming weeks.

Previously, Mr. Tillerson had indicated that the planned move of the embassy from Tel Aviv would take about three years.

The most likely location is in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood in a modern building that currently handles U.S. consular matters such as issuing passports, birth certificates and travel visas, U.S. officials say.

The Israeli legislature gave Mr. Pence several standing ovation during a speech filled with Biblical references and expressions of support for Israel and the Jewish people.

“We stand with Israel, because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny,” Mr. Pence said. “The people of the U.S. have always held a special affection and admiration for the People of the Book.”

The vice president also pleased the Netanyahu government by speaking out strongly against Iran, calling the 2015 nuclear deal backed by the Obama administration a “disaster,” and saying Mr. Trump will not certify it again. He called Tehran the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, saying the Iranian regime “respects no creed, stealing the lives of Jews, Christians and especially Muslims.”

“Together with our allies we will continue to bring the full force of our might to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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