US Vice President Mike Pence referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and said it was an “honour” to be there.
Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decision had been historic and thanked Pence for his part in the Embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision led to widespread protests in which 30 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, Efe news reported.
“I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of world leaders and welcome them, all of them, to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” said Netanyahu.
“This is the first time that I’m standing when both leaders can say those three words: ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem’,” he said.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem, which was occupied and annexed by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, as the capital of their future state.
Netanyahu hailed the US-Israeli close ties that “have never been stronger”. He added that he looked “forward to discussing with you how to continue to strengthen the wonderful alliance between us”.
The brief remarks came during a warm welcome for Pence in Israel, including an honour guard that greeted him with the US anthem, in a protocol usually reserved for heads of states.
The ceremony in Jerusalem was attended also by the White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and the Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.
The US Vice President was later scheduled to give a speech in Parliament that all lawmakers with the Arab-Jewish Joint List, Israel’s third largest party, said they will boycott. He will also speak at the Prime Minister’s residence.
Pence was expected to discuss strengthening relations between Israel and the US and advancing the peace process, as well as improving coordination in the face of shared threats such as Iran.
Pence met Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday and held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II earlier on Sunday before arriving in Israel.
On Tuesday, he will visit the Western wall in East Jerusalem, a Jewish holy site at the foot of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to both Muslims and Jews and a focal point of the unrest in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians, who on Sunday burned pictures of Pence during protests, called for a general strike on Tuesday to protest the visit.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who insists that Washington can no longer be a mediator in the peace process, was in Brussels on Monday in search of support from the EU.