The American embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of next year, US Vice President Mike Pence told Israeli parliamentarians to enthusiastic applause.
Greeted by a standing ovation on Monday inside the Knesset, Pence’s speech was in its introductory phase when a scuffle broke out as Palestinian lawmakers from the Joint Arab List alliance raised posters of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in protest before they were forcibly removed by security.
“America stands with Israel,” Pence said, undeterred by the disruption. “We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause. Your values are our values, and your fight is our fight.
“We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, and good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny,” Pence said to loud applause.
In an unprecedented move, the US embassy invited leaders of settler movements in the occupied West Bank to attend Pence’s speech in the Knesset – the first ever by a US vice president.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is a staunch supporter of illegal Israeli settlements and in the past headed an organisation that donated millions of dollars to one in the West Bank.
‘Gift to extremists’
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Harry Fawcett said Pence’s address was directed at two groups: Israelis and his Christian conservative base at home.
“It was a speech full of religiosity, talking about the Hebrew bible and its significance here in Israel,” Fawcett said, speaking from inside the Knesset in West Jerusalem.
Chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority Saeb Erekat derided Pence’s speech for its controversial religious nature.
“The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists and has proven that the US administration is part of the problem rather than the solution,” Erekat said, according to a tweet by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s negotiations affairs department.
“His message to the rest of the world is clear: violate international law and resolutions and the US will reward you,” Erekat added.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, highlighted the “scary” tone of Pence’s address, noting the American vice president’s Christian Evangelical background.
“This is a Catholic turned Evangelical. It’s like almost a Wahhabite turned Ayatollah politician that is really bent on a religious war in the Middle East,” Bishara said.
He also noted Pence spoke in terms of defending the Christians of the Middle East, while Christians in the region have refused to meet him.
“It’s quite frustrating to analyse a person who speaks in terms of wanting peace while at the same time demolishing the entire basis for peace,” said Bishara. “An entire sermon goes on without mentioning once that the Palestinians have been forced either into refugees or under occupation for the last 50 to 70 years.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, met with European Union leaders in Brussels on Monday and urged them to quickly recognise Palestine officially as a nation state.
“We truly consider the European Union as a true partner and friend and, therefore, we call its member states to swiftly recognise the state of Palestine and we confirm that there is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations,” Abbas, 82, told reporters.
Pence visit to Egypt, Jordan
Pence’s visit to the Middle East marks the first by a senior US official after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last month, exacerbating tensions with Palestinians who have protested against the declaration.
The vice president spent a whirlwind 36 hours in Egypt and Jordan, capping a visit that was marked by tense discussions with the two leaders who are opposed to the US decision.
King Abdullah of Jordan urged Pence to stick to the two-state solution, which would see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Pence earlier told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi if the Israelis and Palestinians “accept it” then the US would adopt that solution.