US Vice President Mike Pence sparked fresh anger at the beginning of a visit to Israel when he said it was an honour to be in “Israel’s capital, Jerusalem”. 

Mr Pence made the comment during a Monday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that formed part of an exceptionally warm welcome for the American official.

The Israeli leader told Mr Pence it was the first time a visiting dignitary could say those words and thanked Mr Pence for President Donald Trump’s “historic” recognition of Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu also praised the American-Israeli alliance, saying it had “never been stronger.”

Mr Pence was greeted with the American national anthem and he spoke briefly with Israeli soldiers before beginning his meeting with Mr Netanyahu. 

He said he was grateful to be representing the US President and that his decision to designate Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would “create an opportunity to move on in good faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” 

He added that he hoped “we are at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to a decades-long conflict”.

But the move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has drawn criticism from the Palestinians and from the Arab allies of the US.

After Mr Trump’s initial Jerusalem announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not meet Trump administration officials and called off a meeting with Mr Pence that had been scheduled for mid-December. 

Mr Abbas again snubbed the US administration when he overlapped with Mr Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening to midday on Sunday.

The Palestinian leader was on his way to Brussels for a meeting with European Union foreign ministers. On Monday, Mr Abbas called on EU member states to recognise a state of Palestine in the pre-1967 war lines, saying state recognition would encourage the Palestinian people to hope and wait for peace.

The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini assured Mr Abbas of the EU’s commitment to Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Mr Abbas, reiterated that the United States “is no longer acceptable as a mediator” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In Jerusalem, however, the Israeli Prime Minister called Mr Pence “a great friend of Israel” and said there was “no alternative for American leadership” in the peace process. “Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace — does not want peace.”

A small group of Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protested Mr Pence’s arrival by burning posters with his image. 

Mr Pence delivered a speech to the Israeli Knesset after his meeting with Mr Netanyahu during which he said the US embassy would move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

The main Arab party in the Israeli parliament protested against Mr Pence’s speech by standing and holding signs, but they were swiftly ejected from the session.

The Knesset, which is accustomed to such high profile visits, had added a new layer of security ahead of Mr Pence’s appearance. 

Before the protest, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List, said the party will not provide a “silent backdrop” to a man he called a “dangerous racist”. 

AP contributed to this report

Independent

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