Jerusalem – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told Israeli lawmakers Monday that the U.S. would put plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem on a fast track, drawing angry denunciations from Arabs who were forcibly removed from the hall during his speech before Israel’s parliament.
The Trump administration’s plan to accelerate the move of the embassy, announced in the first address of a sitting American vice president to the Knesset, marked the highlight of Pence’s visit celebrating President Donald Trump’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital — and, as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to begin initial preparations to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Pence told the lawmakers, vowing that the “United States Embassy will open before the end of next year.”
Pence’s speech drew protests from the Palestinians, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat saying it “has proven that the U.S. administration is part of the problem rather than the solution.” Shortly after Pence began speaking, several Arab lawmakers voiced their displeasure by raising signs that said, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” and heckling the vice president. They were forcibly removed from the plenum.
Despite the pandemonium, Pence expressed hope in an interview with The Associated Press after the speech that the Palestinians would re-enter negotiations. “Our message to President (Mahmoud) Abbas and the Palestinian Authority is: The door’s open. The door’s open. President Trump is absolutely committed to doing everything the United States can to achieve a peace agreement that brings an end to decades of conflict.”
The embassy is to be opened in an existing U.S. facility that will be “retrofitted” to meet safety and security requirements, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein told reporters in Washington. He said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had yet to sign off on the safety plan for the new facility but would do so in coming weeks.
The most likely location is in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, in a modern building that currently handles U.S. consular affairs like issuing passports, birth certificates and travel visas, said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.S. consul-general works out of another Jerusalem facility that handles political affairs and diplomatic functions.
The retrofitted building had been originally envisioned as an interim plan that would allow Trump to quickly fulfill his vow to move the embassy.
Yet it was unclear after Pence’s speech whether Trump still intended to break ground later on a new embassy elsewhere in Jerusalem or to use the retrofitted one permanently.
“We expect that to be the embassy,” Goldstein said of the facility that will open next year. “We do not have a plan at current to build a new embassy.”
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