TEL AVIV – Welcoming Vice President Mike Pence to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said it was the first time in history that he could stand side by side with another world leader and both could identify Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
“Mr. Vice President, 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,” Netanyahu said to Pence at the start of the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.
“This is the first time that I’m standing when both leaders can say those three words, ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,’” Netanyahu said.
“I want to thank President [Donald] Trump and you for that historic statement, which I know you supported and championed,” he added. “I welcome you, dear friend, to Jerusalem. Welcome.”
In a rare move, Pence was welcomed as a head of state for his two-day visit to the region with a ceremony that included an inspection of the IDF honor guard – an ceremony usually reserved for heads of governments.
Last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that as a result of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. could no longer be considered an impartial broker to Israeli-Palestinian talks. The PA further snubbed Pence’s scheduled visit to the region.
Pence and Netanyahu held a private meeting during which the Israeli prime minister said the two would discuss “how to further strengthen our remarkable alliance—it’s never been stronger—and how to advance peace and security in our region, which is our common aim.”
On Sunday, reports emerged that Pence had asked Egypt and Jordan to reach out to the Palestinians on behalf of the U.S. to coax them to return to negotiations.
In response, Jordan’s King Abdullah urged Pence to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the two-state solution, with eastern Jerusalem serving as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“Today, we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations,” Abdullah told Pence after a meeting in Amman.
“Jerusalem is key to Muslims and Christians, as it is to Jews,” Abdullah said. “It is key to peace in the region. And key to enabling Muslims to effectively fight some of the root causes of radicalization.”
Pence told the Jordanian monarch, “President Trump made a historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but as he also made clear in that decision … we continue to respect Jordan’s role as the custodian of holy sites, that we take no position on boundaries and final status — those are subject to negotiation — and as I’ve made clear and the president made clear to the world: the United States of America remains committed if the parties agree to a two-state solution.”
In a post on Facebook on Sunday, Netanyahu said that there could be no other mediator to solving the conflict apart from the U.S. and any party that denies this clearly isn’t seeking peace.
“I have a message for [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas: There is no alternative to American leadership in the diplomatic process. Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans on peace does not want peace,” Netanyahu said.