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Vice President Pence says U.S. Embassy will open in Jerusalem next year

Vice President Mike Pence said today that a new U.S. Embassy to Israel would open in Jerusalem before the end of 2019.

Pence’s statement, made to the Israeli Parliament during a trip to the Holy Land, follows President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month, a move that overturned decades of U.S. policy and international consensus on the status of the holy city.

Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital or believe it should be divided, with East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. The international consensus, previously supported by the United States, has been that the city’s status can be determined only through negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Arab lawmakers rose to their feet at the start of Pence’s speech in the Israeli Parliament and held up signs reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” Ushers pulled down the signs and escorted them out of the room, to the applause of others in the hall.

In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump endorsed the Israeli position but has said that the embassy’s move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv should not hamper peace talks. He says he is working on a “deal of the century” that will resolve the conflict, although few details have been released.

Trump has also threatened to shutter an office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington and cut U.S. donations to the U.N. agency that provides services for Palestinian refugees.

That approach has been welcomed by many Israelis, while rankling Palestinians, whose political and religious leaders have refused to meet Pence.

In his speech to Parliament, Pence spoke in glowing terms of the long alliance between the United States and Israel, framing it as part of an epic battle.

“We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny,” Pence said.

Pence, an evangelical Christian, dotted his address with biblical references and spoke of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem in historical and religious terms.

“The United States has chosen fact over fiction, and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” he said.

He scarcely mentioned the Palestinians and did not refer to their history in the Holy Land, nor to their territorial claims. He said the United States would support a two-state solution “if both sides agree.”

During a meeting with Pence before the speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said, “This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words: ‘Israel’s capital Jerusalem.’”

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Twitter that the speech “carried a message of hope for all people in the region.”

In a statement on her Facebook page, Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev called Pence “a very welcome guest here” and thanked him and Trump for endorsing the Israeli claim to Jerusalem and for cutting funding for the U.N. agency.

“Truth must be said and the truth is that Israel and Jerusalem belong to the Jewish people,” Regev wrote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet Pence. He has called Trump’s Jerusalem declaration “a slap in the face.”

Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians, said that Pence’s “messianic discourse” was “a gift to extremists.”

“His message to the rest of the world is clear: violate international law & resolutions and the US will reward you,” he said, according to his office’s Twitter account.

Pence has spoken of protecting Christian minorities in the Middle East, but he has been widely shunned by those same Christians for his embrace of the Israeli position on Jerusalem.

No Arab Christian leaders have agreed to meet with him during his visit, and he is not scheduled to visit Christian holy sites like the city of Nazareth, the West Bank town of Bethlehem or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified.

Pence canceled his last planned trip to the Holy Land before Christmas after Christian Arab leaders declined to meet with him.

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