WASHINGTON — Vice President Pence repeatedly made headlines during a four-day trip to the Middle East taken weeks after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel —– a move that sparked protests throughout the region after Trump’s December announcement.
Here are highlights from the trip, which ended Tuesday with a visit to the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial and to the Western Wall.
Faster timeline for embassy move
Addressing the Israeli parliament Monday, Pence announced the U.S. embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2019. That’s a faster timetable than administration officials had projected after Trump announced in December that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While the announcement was applauded by Christian conservatives in the Unites States — a strong base of support for the Trump administration with close ties to Pence — Christian leaders in the Middle East canceled meetings with Pence that had been on the original schedule before the trip got pushed into January. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also called off a planned meeting with Pence in Bethlehem after the December announcement.
The Trump administration will advance our plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem – and the Embassy will open before the end of next year. #VPinIsrael
Arab lawmakers interrupted the start of Pence’s speech with protest signs proclaiming that Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine. They were pushed out of the chamber by Knesset security officers as other lawmakers loudly applauded. Continuing his opening remarks, Pence called it “deeply humbling for me to stand before this vibrant democracy.” Pence received a lengthy standing ovation after his speech. But the chief negotiator for the Palestinians tweeted that “The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists & has proven that the US Administration is part of the problem rather than the solution.”
As Vice President Pence began to speak at the Israeli parliament, a group of lawmakers stood to protest and were kicked out of the chamber. There are now 13 empty seats. Pence stood quietly and watched, then commended this “vibrant democracy.”
Pence is a “Mensch”
The criticism Pence faced from Palestinians was offset by the love he got from Israelis. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin summed up his effusive praise of Pence, as someone who stands “very firm behind your words,” by saying there is only one word to describe him: a mensch. That’s the “highest of Jewish compliments,”The Jerusalem Postreported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Pence that “the day I met you, I knew you were a true friend. Netanyahu also said he was touched to learn from Pence that he has a photo of their 2009 meeting in the Vice President’s residence, in Washington.
Pence concluded his trip Tuesday by touring Yad Vashem with Netanyahu and visiting the Western Wall, an outer wall of the Second Temple left behind when Rome destroyed it in 70 A.D., and the holiest site where Jews can pray.
A privilege to pray at the Western Wall. This is our 4th trip to the Holy Land, but Karen & I never fail to leave without a sense our faith has been renewed – our faith in God, but also our faith in the people of Israel & their commitment to freedom, security & peace. #VPinIsrael
No progress on peace talks
While Pence insisted that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel makes a peace agreement more possible, not less, an administration official told reporters there has been no contact with the Palestinian leadership since the announcement. Pence told Reuters the White House is working with partners in the region to develop a framework for a peace agreement. But, Pence said, “it all just depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table.”
I truly believe that in making the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, PEACE is now MORE POSSIBLE, not less possible. #VPinIsrael
Pence breaks silence on Trump
In an interview with the Associated Press in Jerusalem, Pence offered his first response to reports that Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” and that Trump had an affair with an adult film actress in 2005, shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to his youngest son. Although the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s lawyer paid the actress to not talk to reporters before the 2016 election, Pence called the allegations “baseless.” Trump has also denied making the “shithole countries” comments, reportedly made during discussions about whether to include immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries in an immigration bill. Pence told the Associated Press that he “knows the president’s heart” and Trump wants a merit-based system that doesn’t consider an immigrant’s “race or creed.”