As Vice President Mike Pence began his speech to the Israeli Knesset this morning, Palestinian lawmakers protested the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, waving posters that said, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” They were forcibly removed from the chamber– reportedly all 13 members of the Joint List– as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood to cheer their removal.
Head of the Joint List Aymen Odeh said on social media the action was a “legitimate protest, against the Trump-Netanyahu regime’s exaltation of racism and hatred, who speak of peace solely as lip service.”
Protesting Arab Knesset members wave signs before being removed by security during Pence's speech in Israel's Parliament. pic.twitter.com/xForw9XQeb
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 22, 2018
Proud to lead the Joint List in strong, legitimate protest, against the Trump-Netanyahu regime’s exaltation of racism and hatred, who speak of peace solely as lip service.
Our protest today in the plenum is in honor of all who oppose the occupation and dream of peace.
— Ayman Odeh (@AyOdeh) January 22, 2018
The astonishing moment caused Andrea Mitchell, NBC diplomatic correspondent, to remark on the discrimination of Israeli democracy: “Can you imagine Capitol Police dragging members of the congressional black caucus off the House floor?”
Pence went on to speak to an all-Jewish legislature and vowed that the Trump administration will move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The move is not a blow to peace, Pence said. “We have chosen fact over fiction, and fact is the only basis of a lasting peace,” he said. The decision does not affect “final status issues” in peace negotiations, or affect the ultimate boundaries of the capital, not does it preclude the creation of a Palestinian state, Pence said; and he called on Palestinians to return to the bargaining table.
“If both sides agree, the United States will support a two state solution,” Pence said. Netanyahu did not applaud this statement, though he continually applauded other statements by the vice president.
In a religiously-themed speech aligning the United States closely with the Zionist project of bringing Jews to a national home in Israel, Pence drew standing ovations for his fiery comments about Iran. He seemed to threaten regime change when he offered a message from the American people to the “people of Iran: we are your friends, and the day is coming when you will free from the evil regime that suffocates your dreams and buries your hopes.”
He also said that the Iran nuclear deal is a “disaster” that has allowed Iran to continue to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. will no longer certify that deal and will soon act to resume sanctions on Iran, unless the deal is “fixed.”
Coupled with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to meet with Pence, and Abbas’s speech to a friendly European Union gathering in Brussels today, Pence’s speech marks a new moment in U.S. middle east policy in which it is openly aligned with Israel in defiance of world opinion. While Pence referenced earlier meetings on his trip with “great” U.S. allies King Abdullah in Jordan and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, King Abdullah told him that Jerusalem must also be the Palestinian capital, and Palestinian leaders do not regard the U.S. as an honest broker for negotiations, ending a 25-year period of peace processing in which they have accepted the U.S. role, even if those negotiations have done nothing to end the occupation or deliver a Palestinian state.
Those goals seemed more distant than ever. Pence made no reference to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, let alone to the occupation. He referenced the bible and said American presidents going back to Washington and Lincoln had supported Zionist aspirations of Jewish return to Jerusalem. He was applauded by U.S. ambassador David Friedman, who is himself a settler advocate.
For his part Netanyahu gave a speech in which he called Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “one of the most momentous decisions in the history of Zionism.”
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and negotiator, condemned the tone and substance of Pence’s appearance in comments distributed by the Institute for Middle East Understanding:
“Pence is a dangerous religious fanatic who supports Israel unconditionally because of his Christian Zionist ideology. His visit to Israel is effectively a victory lap for promoting international disorder and religious extremism. Moreover, his scheduled visit to holy sites in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem is a major provocation, particularly so soon after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“In the wake of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel, in violation of international law and seven decades of official US policy, and after Israel killed more than 16 Palestinians in protests that ensued, Pence is sending Israel the message that it will be rewarded for its decades of illegal behavior.”
In Haaretz, Sam Bahour writes that Pence has confirmed that the U.S. is out of the peace process.
He … repeated, mantra-like, the claim that the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was justified as “fact”. The word “Palestinian” was barely mentioned, and “Palestine” – not at all.
Pence also said the U.S. would support a two-state solution, but only if both sides support it – echoing Trump’s comments at his Jerusalem announcement. The meaning? The U.S. is abandoning the two-state solution. A sovereign Palestinian state is no longer a necessary and critical aim of U.S. foreign policy.
Donald Trump, it appears, will do nothing to stop or rebuke Israel’s accelerated settlement building…