Hailed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “great friend,” US Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Tel Aviv as part of a Middle East tour revolving around Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as the capital of Israel.
Pence landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday, marking the highest-level visit by a US official to the region since President Donald Trump’s decision in early December to move the American diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv.
He refused to talk to reporters after a welcome ceremony by Israel’s tourism minister and headed directly to Jerusalem al-Quds.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu said during a cabinet meeting that he was looking forward to discussing regional issues with Pence.
“Anyone who truly wants to fulfill those goals knows there is no substitute to the United States’ leadership,” Netanyahu said.
Trump’s al-Quds shift was a break from decades of US policy that left the holy city’s status to be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Palestinians are hopeful that the eastern part of the city would eventually serve as the capital of a future independent state.
Trump’s declaration drew condemnation from world leaders and even Washington’s closest allies in Arab nations and triggered demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco and other Muslim countries.
In an apparent snub, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has called Trump’s declaration a “slap in the face,” left for an overseas trip before Pence’s arrival.
Abbas has questioned Washington’s ability to act as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel.
Jordanian king’s ‘frank discussion’
Pence’s firm defense of Trump’s decision has specifically caused uneasiness among Arab leaders.
The frustration became evident earlier on Sunday, when he made a short stop in Jordan and met with King Abdullah II.
Abdullah told Pence that the Trump administration needed to “rebuild trust and confidence” in a two-state solution.
“Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations,” he said
Pence told reporters that he had a “frank discussion” with the monarch but said the issue was nothing more than a “disagreement” between friends.
“What we agreed on was the need for all parties to come back to the table,” Pence said. “I hope I impressed upon King Abdullah our earnest desire to restart the peace process.”
The vice president then headed to a US military base near the Jordan-Syria border to discuss the ongoing political chaos in Washington over a government shutdown.
Pence’s three-county tour began with Egypt, where he reiterated Washington’s support for a two-state solution.