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Pence moves up timing for Jerusalem embassy move

Monday - 22/01/2018 08:28
Pence was to deliver a speech to the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, later Monday before holding a joint news conference with Netanyahu. The two men were then to have dinner together in Jerusalem.

Last Updated Jan 22, 2018 8:23 AM EST

JERUSALEM -- Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, on Monday, reaffirming the United States' unwavering commitment to its Middle Eastern ally and lauding his boss, President Donald Trump, for righting "a 70-year wrong" with his contentious decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish state. Pence told the gathered lawmakers that Mr. Trump had kept "his word to the American people" when he recognized Jerusalem.

But in spite of Pence's assertion that the U.S. remains "fully committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," the Palestinians have boycotted his visit to the region over the Jerusalem move, which represented a massive pivot away from decades of U.S. foreign policy. 

Pence also committed to seeing the U.S. Embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reopened next year -- shortening the schedule on what has been another massive bone of contention with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world.

President Trump's deputy kicked off his first visit to Israel by meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. In spite of the fact that he flew into the Middle East on a wave of Palestinian anger over the Trump administration's unilateral recognition of the holy city as Israel's capital, Pence declared his hope that the world was witnessing "the dawn of a new era" in stagnant peace talks which have daunted politicians across the planet for decades.

CBS News Radio correspondent Robert Berger reports Pence was to hold two days of talks with Israeli leaders and visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's disputed Old City, but the centerpiece of his visit to Israel will be his speech to the Knesset, or Israeli parliament. 

He has received a warm welcome in Israel, which has praised the American decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. But that decision has infuriated the Palestinians and upset America's Arab allies as well. 

Meeting with Netanyahu, Pence said it was an honor to be in "Israel's capital, Jerusalem." Netanyahu told Pence it was the first time a visiting dignitary could utter those three words along with him, and he thanked Pence for Mr. Trump's "historic" recognition of Jerusalem. The Israeli leader also lauded the American-Israeli alliance, which he said has "never been stronger." 

He told the Knesset that he would "strongly urge" the Palestinians to rejoin a peace dialogue. 

Pence said he was grateful to be representing Mr. Trump and that his decision to designate Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would "create an opportunity to move on in good faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

The vice president said he was hopeful "we are at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to a decades-long conflict."

Pence will not meet with Palestinian officials, who are boycotting his visit.    

Before Israel, Pence stopped in Egypt and then Jordan, where close U.S. ally King Abdullah II appealed to him to "rebuild trust and confidence" in the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the fallout from the administration's decision on Jerusalem.

Pence, in turn, tried to reassure the monarch that the Trump administration remains committed to restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and that it views Jordan as a central player.

The vice president said that "the United States of America remains committed, if the parties agree, to a two state solution." That caveat deviated from long-standing U.S. support for a two-state solution as the only possible outcome of any peace deal.

President Trump's pivot on Jerusalem last month infuriated the Palestinians, who seek the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as a future capital. They accused the U.S. of siding with Israel and said Washington can no longer serve as a mediator.

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