In the first official visit to Israel by an American senior official since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Dec. 6, Vice President Mike Pence — a strong evangelical Christian — announced at the Knesset that the move of the nation’s embassy will happen within the year.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. And, as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he told Israeli parliamentarians. “In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year.”
In the first speech by a U.S. vice president to the Israeli parliament, Pence used scriptures and biblical references and was met with several standing ovations as he emphasized America’s “unshakable bond” with the Jewish nation.
“Thanks to the President’s leadership, the alliance between our two countries has never been stronger, and the friendship between our peoples has never been deeper. And I am here to convey a simple message from the heart of the American people: America stands with Israel.”
Pence was received with all the regalia of a head of state when he arrived on Sunday. But his speech on Monday was interrupted by member of the Joint List party — a majority of whom are Arab Israeli. The Knesset members held up signs that read “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine” before they were ushered out of the room. Holding up signs in the Knesset is prohibited and a zero-tolerance policy for heckling is implemented when a foreign dignitary speaks.
Pence used the interruption to praise Israel’s “vibrant democracy” and insisted that American “remains fully committed to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas had said previously he would not meet with American officials since Trump’s embassy announcement. Abbas’ Fatah party called for a general strike across “all Palestinian sectors” on Tuesday coinciding with Pence’s last day in Israel.
In his Knesset speech, Pence berated the Iranian nuclear deal struck by his predecessors in the White House and called the Islamic country the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism — words that were well received by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pence used the opportunity to announce the United States’ commitment to earmark $110 million to assist “Christian and other religious minorities across the wider Middle East” who have been victimized by terrorism, war and persecution.
“And we urge our allies — here in Israel, in Europe, and across the world — to join us in this cause,” he said. “Let’s work together to restore the rich splendor of religious diversity across the Middle East, so that all faiths may once again flourish in the lands where they were born.”
On Tuesday, Pence visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem where he read a short prayer from Psalms and wrote int he guest book.
“It is my great honor to pray here at this sacred place. God bless the Jewish people and God bless the State of Israel always,” he wrote.
The day before he spoke of Israel’s history dating back to the call of Abraham to the birth of the modern state.
“How unlikely was Israel’s birth; how more unlikely has been her survival,” he said. “And how confounding, and against the odds, has been her thriving. You have turned the desert into a garden, scarcity into plenty, sickness into health, and you turned hope into a future.
“Israel is like a tree that has grown deep roots in the soil of your forefathers, yet as it grows, it reaches ever closer to the heavens. And today and every day, the Jewish State of Israel, and all the Jewish people, bear witness to God’s faithfulness, as well as your own.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he was moved to tears by Pence’s “extraordinary” speech at the Knesset.
“Building on President Trump’s historic announcement, the United States is returning to its core values and embracing its key allies,” he tweeted.
Pence and his wife Karen visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Monday after spending time with Israel President Rueben Rivlin at his residence. He left Israel on Tuesday capping a Middle East tour in which he also visited with leaders in Egypt and Jordan.