U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who landed in Israel Sunday evening after spending 36 hours in Egypt and Jordan, has kicked off his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Later in the day, he will deliver a speech on U.S.-Israel relations.
Meeting privately, Pence told Netanyahu it was a "great honor" to be in "Israel's capital, Jerusalem" and that he is hopeful "we are at the dawn of a new era" of renewed efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.
At the start of the meeting , Netanyahu said "Mr. Vice President, I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of world leaders and welcome them, all of them to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. This is the first time that I’m standing when both leaders can say those three words, 'Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.'
"I want to thank President Trump and you for that historic statement, which I know you supported and championed. II look forward to discussing with you, as we’ve just begun, how to further strengthen our remarkable alliance—it’s never been stronger—and how to advance peace and security in our region, which is our common aim."
The Foreign Ministry says Pence received a full head-of-state welcome. Present at his welcome ceremony were White House Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer. Netanyahu and Pence are now meeting privately for thirty minutes before continuing with the day's agenda.
The Palestinian Authority is boycotting Pence's visit to the region, as are Christian leaders in Israel due to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announcement to move the embassy. On Sunday, Palestinian demonstrators burned images of the U.S. vice president in Bethlehem in protest of his visit.
Upon landing, Pence was greeted by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Pence is joined by his wife, Karen Pence.
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.
Pence will also not be meeting a member of the Israeli opposition, as is often customary on such visits. Opposition head Isaac Herzog requested a meeting but was reportedly denied.
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.
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.
The head of Israel's Arab coalition party vowed to boycott Pence's visit. "He is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region," said Joint Arab List chairman Ayman Odeh.
Reuters contributed to this story
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