International Live: US Vice President Mike Pence said Monday he hoped for “the dawn of a new era” in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts as he began a visit to Jerusalem despite a Palestinian boycott of his trip.
The 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.
Controversy back home over a budget dispute that has led to a US government shutdown has trailed Pence, and he sought to blame Democrats for the impasse during a speech to troops at the military facility on Sunday.
Arab outrage over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6 had prompted the cancellation of several planned meetings ahead of Pence’s tour.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is refusing to meet Pence, making his visit a rare one by a high-ranking US official not to include talks with the Palestinians.
Abbas was to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday and was expected to ask them to officially recognise the state of Palestine “as a way to respond” to Trump’s declaration, Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki told AFP.
Israel has however enthusiastically welcomed Pence, whose administration has pledged staunch support for the country, with Netanyahu calling him a “dear friend” as they met in Jerusalem.
“I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of world leaders and (to) welcome them, all of them to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words, ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,'” Netanyahu said.
Beyond refusing to meet Pence, Abbas has said the United States can no longer serve as mediator in Middle East peace talks. The Palestinians were planning a general strike on Tuesday to protest Trump’s declaration.
Unrest since the announcement has left at least 17 Palestinians dead, most of them killed in clashes with Israeli forces. One Israeli has been killed in that time.
The US move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital broke with decades of international consensus that the city’s status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israelis and Palestinians alike interpreted Trump’s move as Washington taking Israel’s side in the conflict — a view reinforced by the White House’s recent decision to withhold financing for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The US vice president’s first stop on the Middle East tour was Egypt, where he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a key Trump ally.
The leaders of both Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, would be key players if US mediators ever manage to revive a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as Trump says he wants.
Dhaka, 22 January, (campuslive24.com) //