Pence Lands in Israel on Last Leg of Mideast Trip, as Palestinians Boycott Visit

VP arrives in Israel after crisis over Jerusalem recognition and following stops in Jordan and Egypt; Netanyahu: We'll discuss peace and security

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence waves as he steps off a plane upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport near the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, January 21, 2018.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Israel Sunday evening after spending 36 hours in two neighboring Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan.

Pence touched down in Tel Aviv early Sunday evening, and was greeted by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin who warmly shook his hand. Also greeting Pence were Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer as well as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. 

The vice president set out on the Middle East tour amid a U.S. government shutdown which has left Republican and Democratic senators in a standoff over funding for federal agencies. 

Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Israel

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said upon Pence's arrival that he will discuss with the vice president "two issues: Peace and security. As for peace, I have a message for Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas). There is no alternative to American leadership of the peace process. Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace – does not want peace.

Pence shakes hands with Israeli Ambassador to U.S. Ron Dermer upon his arrival to Ben-Gurion Airport, January 21, 2018.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

"As for security," Netanyahu said, speaking at a Foreign Ministry conference, "I have a message for the countries of Europe: I suggest that they take President Trump's words seriously. I suggest that they take President Trump's words seriously. If they want to preserve the nuclear agreement with Iran, they must propose amendments to the agreement that will prevent Iran from going nuclear, which threatens them and the entire world."

Pence doesn't have any official schedule for Sunday night, and he is expected to rest once he arrives. The vice president is joined on the visit by his wife, Second Lady Karen Pence. On Monday morning Pence will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem and then head to the Knesset, where he will deliver a speech on U.S.-Israel relations. The third largest party in Israel's parliament, the Joint List, has announced that it will boycott his speech because of the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

On Tuesday, Pence will meet with President Reuven Rivlin and visit the Western Wall, before flying back to Washington, D.C. in the afternoon. No Israeli official is expected to accompany Pence during his visit to the Western Wall, similarly to the visit by U.S. President Donald Trump held to the holy Jewish site in May, 2017. Pence may use the occasion to make a statement about the administration's Jerusalem policy.

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During his visits in Egypt and Jordan over the weekend, Pence stressed that the Trump administration remains committed to the status quo pertaining to the holy sites in Jerusalem. He said that the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital doesn't include any reference to the city's borders, which will be determined in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Both Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah II told Pence that they oppose the administration's decision.

Abdullah urged Pence to promote a two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pence earlier told Sissi that if "the two sides accept it," then the Trump administration will indeed adopt that solution - a statement similar to previous ones made by the president himself. It should be noted that both sides have officially agreed on a two-state solution multiple times in the past, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has rescinded his support for that solution before the 2015 Israeli election. 

The Palestinian Authority is boycotting Pence's visit to the region and so are the main Christian leaders in Israel and the PA because of Trump's Jerusalem speech. Pence, an evangelical Christian, played a major role in convincing Trump to declare a change in U.S. policy on Jerusalem. Last week it was reported that the U.S. could declare an existing consular office in Jerusalem as its embassy, as early as 2019.

Another main issue that is expected to come up during Pence's conversations with the Israeli leadership is the civil war in Syria. During his visit to Jordan, Pence made an unscheduled stop at a U.S. military base near the Jordan-Syria border, according to reporters who accompanied the vice president.

Netanyahu on Sunday told ministers that Pence was a "great friend" of the Jewish state and that there is "no substitute for U.S. leadership" in promoting peace and security in the Middle East.

"Tonight a great friend of the State of Israel will arrive...a true friend," said Netanyahu of the U.S. vice president hours before his arrival. 

Haaretz