Jan. 22 (UPI) — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence received a welcome Monday normally reserved for heads of state as he began a two-day visit to Israel.
He was warmly received by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his arrival Sunday, and was greeted by a ceremonial Israel Defense Forces honor guard normally reserved for national leaders before a closed-door meeting with Netanyahu.
In a statement, Pence said it was his “great honor to be in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s Dec. 9 pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty over the city.
Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem have snubbed Pence and his visit because of the controversial U.S. decision.
Pence said the declaration “would create an opportunity to move on, in good faith negotiations, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on issues that can be discussed and President Trump truly believes can be resolved.
“I’m hopeful that we’re at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict that has affected this region.”
Netanyahu said he’d never before joined with a foreign dignitary in referring to Jerusalem as the capital.
“This is the first time that I’m standing when both leaders can say those three words, ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,’” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
Netanyahu also thanked Trump in the statement, referred to Pence as a “dear friend” and called the visit an opportunity “to further strengthen our remarkable alliance. It’s never been stronger.”
Pence was scheduled to address the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, later Monday.
The vice president arrived in Israel after visiting Jordan’s King Abdullah, who favors Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution in Israel. Abdullah was also critical of the Trump administration for its recognition of Jerusalem. Pence later said that he and Abdullah “agreed to disagree.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Jordan at the same time as Pence on Sunday, but deliberately avoided a meeting to reinforce Palestinian displeasure of the Trump administration’s decision on Jerusalem. Following Trump’s move, Palestinian authorities have said the United States will not be party to peace talks until the declaration is reversed.
“I have a message for Abbas,” Netanyahu said. “There is no alternative to American leadership in the diplomatic process. Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans on peace does not want peace.”
In a demonstration in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, protesters burned a photograph of Pence. His planned visit to the West Bank was canceled because the Palestinian Authority pledged to boycott his visit. Several Arab members of the Knesset also announced plans to boycott Pence’s address on Monday.
Knesset member Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab List party called Pence “a dangerous man with a messianic mission that includes the destruction of the entire region.”