The speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the Knesset Monday afternoon was more like an ecstatic sermon by an evangelist preacher traveling through the Holy Land than the address of a leader seeking to present a new diplomatic plan for Middle East peace.
The vice president, who as we know is a devout Christian, divided the world in his speech into good and evil, friends and enemies, heaven and hell. On one side is the Jewish people, the chosen people, to whom God promised this land. No less important is that in the evangelical Christian worldview, the return of the Jewish people to its promised land is necessary to expedite Judgment Day and the return of Jesus. So if the infidels, who, what can you do, includes Jews, do not accept the yoke of his kingdom, the end will be less than heartwarming and probably wouldn’t receive thunderous applause in the plenum.
We stand with Israel because we believe in the good over evil, the vice president said simply. He spiced his words with biblical motifs, with the story of the liberation of the Jewish people, compared today’s State of Israel to the Kingdom of David and wished for peace between Isaac and Ishmael.
But while his speech made it eminently clear who the good guys are in the story (the Jewish people and America, of course), the bad guys change identities. Sometimes it’s radical Islamic terrorism (though not all Muslims), sometimes it’s the Iranian regime (but not the Iranian people), sometimes it’s the nuclear deal between Iran and the group of world powers (“a disaster”) and sometimes the Palestinians, who are refusing to negotiate, unlike the Israelis, whom he praised for their willingness to resume direct negotiations. At the end of the speech the divine hierarchy was clear, “May God bless the Jewish people, may God bless the State of Israel and all who call these lands their home, and may God continue to bless the United States of America,” he concluded.
But between the heavenly prophecies and the Christian symbolism, the middle part of the speech sounded a lot like the more earthly messages from the U.S. State Department – President Donald Trump’s commitment to a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians; the recognition of Jerusalem as the foundation for a just and lasting peace; the demand to maintain the status quo in the city; the mention of the Muslim name of the Temple Mount, Haram al-Sharif; stressing the fact that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital doesn’t convey an American position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders; and of course, the message that received far less applause from the MKs in the hall – that if both sides agree, the United States will support the two-state solution. It was a message that has stabilized in the months since Trump’s casual remark about “two states or one state.”
Aside from these earthly messages, there were also hints of the concessions the United States will still demand from the chosen people. We know that peace requires compromises, the vice president said, although he stressed that his country would never compromise on Israel’s security. He also noted that peace is possible, an expression that corresponds to Obama’s speeches, because Israel has already made “very difficult” decisions to achieve peace with its neighbors. But if all this doesn’t help, one can always go back to Plan A – pray for a miracle.
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