The Vice President spoke at the annual AIPAC meeting
Administration seeks "equitable and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"
Speaking to thousands of pro-Israel activists, Vice President Mike Pence said the United States is still considering moving the US Embassy in Israel – an action expected to be met with strong opposition in the Arab world.
“After decades of simply talking about it, the President of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Pence told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday. The pro-Israel lobby, popularly known as AIPAC, is holding the event in Washington.
The embassy promise was a mainstay of President Trump’s campaign speeches, but the administration backed off making the move immediately once it took office.
In the interim, the new US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is expected to be sworn in this week, is initially expected to live and work out of Jerusalem.
During a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, President Trump said, “I’d love to see that happen. We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care.”
While Congress passed a law to move the embassy in 1995, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all signed waivers to suspend it. The current waiver, signed by President Obama, expires June 1.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has said it will revoke its recognition of Israel if the embassy is moved.
“Under no circumstances shall we recognize Israel (with the) United States saying east Jerusalem is annexed,” PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN in January.
Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, and Erakat said that by moving its embassy, the United States would be insinuating that the two-state solution to reaching a Mideast peace deal was dead.
Saying he and President Trump always “will stand without apology” for Israel and that the United States will never compromise its safety and security, Pence also gave the supportive crowd what it wanted to hear regarding Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
“America will no longer tolerate Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and jeopardize Israel’s security. The ayatollahs in Tehran openly admit their desire to wipe Israel off the map and drive its people into the sea. For decades, Iran has funneled weapons and cash to terrorists in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip. They’ve gone to great lengths to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” he said.
“Due to the disastrous end of nuclear-related sanctions under the Iran deal, they now have additional resources to devote to sowing chaos and imperiling Israel. So let me be clear, under President Donald Trump, the United States of America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This is our solemn promise to you, to Israel, and to the world.”
Pence said Trump “is also invested in finding an equitable and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
He mentioned how the administration’s special representative on peace negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, had visited Israel and the Palestinian territories a few weeks ago. Last week, the United States hosted an Israeli delegation in Washington.
The settlement issue
Pence did not raise the issue of Israeli settlement construction, a topic was discussed last week during the talks between Greenblatt and the Israelis.
The United States is heading closer to an agreement with Israel to limit settlement construction, a move that could pave the way for an eventual resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, US, Israeli and Arab officials told CNN.
A White House statement issued Thursday night at the conclusion of four days of talks between Israeli and US officials in Washington indicated that the United States expects that Israel to be curbing construction of housing in West Bank areas claimed by Palestinians for a future state.
The American delegation “reiterated President (Donald) Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” the statement said. “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”
US and Israeli officials said that Greenblatt made clear during the talks that the President wants Israel to slow settlement construction and doesn’t want such activity to jeopardize efforts to restart the peace process.
The Trump administration has told Israel to build within the boundaries of existing settlements and not to establish new communities, according to the sources. Soon after Trump took office, Netanyahu announced that Israel would establish the first new settlement in some two decades.
Greenblatt also told the Israelis that Trump wants to see Netanyahu demonstrate he is willing to take steps to slow construction and take other confidence-building measures, according to the officials.
But Netanyahu has been reluctant to stop settlement building, and his leadership is facing a right-wing challenge supporting increased building and even annexation of parts of the West Bank. It is unclear that he will deliver what the United States is hoping for on the politically explosive issue.
“We have a clearer understanding of where and how the White House wants to see us build,” a senior Israeli official said after the two rounds of talks.
The US-Israeli agreement under discussion is expected to be announced with a set of economic and development projects in the Palestinian territories with an emphasis on Gaza, the officials said.