Vice President Mike Pence confirmed Monday that the U.S. will officially open its embassy in Jerusalem next year, far earlier than previously expected.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel has long been located in Tel Aviv, but President Donald Trump announced last month that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Part of that decision meant moving America’s embassy to the historic city.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said it will take at least three years to build a new diplomatic facility in Jerusalem with all the necessary security measures, according to The Associated Press.
But under a new proposal, an interim embassy will reportedly be designated in West Jerusalem, with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and some of his aides potentially having temporary offices in the facility by April.
Addressing Israeli lawmakers on Monday, Pence confirmed Trump had ordered the State Department to “immediately begin preparations” to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
“In the weeks ahead our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, and that United States embassy will open before the end of next year,” Pence said in a speech before the Israeli Knesset. His statement immediately drew applause from Israeli politicians.
“Our president made his decision in his words, ‘in the best interests of the United States,'” Pence said. “But he also made it clear that we believe that his decision is in the best interests of peace.”
The vice president continued, suggesting that Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital could eventually help resolve the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction — and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” Pence said, adding that the U.S. is “fully committed to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
According to Trump administration officials who spoke with the AP, most of the embassy’s operations will stay in Tel Aviv for the time being. However, Trump will still be able to say he followed through on his promise.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised America’s approach toward his country, expressing gratitude that the U.S. has finally agreed to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
“Mr. Vice President, I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of world leaders and welcome them, all of them to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told Pence, according to The Washington Post.
“This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words.”
But his sentiments were not shared by many Arab and Palestinian leaders.
At the beginning of Pence’s speech before the Knesset, Israeli Arab lawmakers walked out of the room.
Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, said Pence’s speech was a “a gift to extremists” that proved the Trump administration “is part of the problem rather than the solution,” according to Bloomberg News.
“His message to the rest of the world is clear: Violate international law and resolutions and the U.S. will reward you,” Erekat said on Twitter.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not meet with Pence while he is in the Middle East.
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