Mike Pence tells Knesset US embassy will move to Jerusalem by end of next year

JTA

Vice President Mike Pence speaking to the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, Jan. 22, 2018. (Ariel Schalit/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by no later than the end of next year, during an address to Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset.

Pence also called the Iran nuclear deal a “disaster” and said that “the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement.”

Monday’s address was the first time a U.S. vice president has addressed the Knesset. As he began to speak, Arab-Israeli lawmakers from the Joint Arab List party began waving signs protesting the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, leading to their expulsion from the Knesset chamber.

Pence called the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “in the best interest” of peace saying that “fact is the only basis for peace.” He stressed that such recognition does not change the status quo arrangements on holy sites in the city and that the U.S. has not taken a position on final status issues such as borders.

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Pence reaffirmed that “if both sides agree, the United States of America will support a two-state solution.”

He praised Israel for being willing to come to the peace table and said that the United States “strongly urge(s) the Palestinian leadership to return to the table. Peace can only come through dialogue.”

Pence asserted that “radical Islamic terrorism knows no boundaries” and called to destroy ISIS at its source. He added that the United States has directly committed more than $110 million to help Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East to rebuild after years of repressive wars, and calls on Israel and others to join the effort to restore a “rich diversity” to the region.

He vowed that the United States would band together with Israel to fight Iran, and said that the United States would never allow Iran to achieve a nuclear weapon. He also threatened that: “Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed, President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately.”

He had a message for the people of Iran, saying: “We are your friends. And the day is coming when you will be free of the evil regime that suffocates your dreams and buries your hopes.”

Pence cited passages from the Bible and alluded to Biblical history, as well as the parallels between the founding of the United States and Israel, many times during his half-hour long address.

He praised Israel for returning “to the land which your fathers possessed,” and noted that all major religions claim Abraham as a forefather.

In talking about Israel’s 70th independence celebrations, Pence recited the Shehechiyanu prayer in broken Hebrew, earning him one of at least a dozen standing ovations from the lawmakers.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and U.S. Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt were in the Knesset chamber for the speech.

Pence added a small twist to the end of his address, saying: “May God bless the state of Israel and all who call these lands their home.”

Prior to his speech to the Knesset, Pence met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

Following the meeting, in remarks to reporters, Pence called it “my great honor, on behalf of the President of the United States, to be in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, following on the president’s historic decision.”

He said that in addition to speaking to Netanyahu about Israel’s shared goals and common interests “I also am here hopeful, hopeful that we are at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict that has affected this region.”

Netanyahu thanked Pence and President Donald Trump for their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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