Mike Pence Addressing the Israeli Parliament

By Lawrence Audu

US Vice President Mike Pence said the move relocation of the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem must be achieved by the end of 2019.

While delivers a speech to Israel’s parliament, filled with biblical references and praise of Israel, he was greeted with loud applause by Israeli Jewish lawmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while Arab lawmakers were expelled after they shouted in protest.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas arrived to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, urging them to “swiftly” recognise the state of Palestine in the cause of Pence’s speech.

Referring to the 1948 founding of Israel, he said US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the country’s capital last month “righted a 70-year wrong”.

The decision has drawn near global condemnation and deeply angered the Palestinians, who have refused to meet with Pence on his visit.

“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States embassy in Jerusalem,” Pence said.

“And that United States embassy will open before the end of next year.”

As Pence was set to begin his speech, a group of around a dozen Arab Israeli lawmakers shouted in protest, with some holding signs saying Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.

They were escorted out by security agents as Netanyahu and others stood and applauded their expulsion.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, denounced Pence’s speech as “messianic” and a “gift to extremists”.

Palestinian Protesters in Jerusalem

Pence’s visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a US military facility near the Syrian border.

Arab outrage over Trump’s Jerusalem decision on December 6 had prompted the cancellation of several planned meetings ahead of Pence’s tour.

Abbas and other Palestinian leaders refused to meet Pence, making his visit a rare one by a high-ranking US official not to include talks with the Palestinians.

Israel has enthusiastically welcomed the vice president, with Netanyahu calling him a “dear friend” and praising what he described as the strongest ever ties between the two countries.

Earlier Monday, Pence was given a ceremonial welcome in a tent outside Netanyahu’s office, with an honour guard and military band.