US Vice President Mike Pence promised Monday to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem “before the end of next year” in a Knesset speech that earned him rousing applause and multiple standing ovations from the gathered lawmakers.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” Pence said.
Pence also called on the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table, stressing that “peace can only come through dialogue.”
“We recognize peace will require compromise,” he continued, “but you can be confident the United States will never compromise the safety and security of the State of Israel. Any peace agreement must guarantee Israel’s ability to defend itself by itself.”
But before Pence can begin his speech, he was interrupted by Arab MKs from the Joint List, who stormed into the room holding protest signs in Arabic and English saying “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”
Pence responded to the fracas by saying with a smile: “It is deeply humbling for me to stand before this vibrant democracy.”
Pence began his speech with a message of support “from the heart of the American people: America stands with Israel. We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values and your fight is out fight.”
Pence, an evangelical Christian, drew parallels between Jewish history dating back to biblical times and the European pilgrims who founded the United States. “It’s a story of an exodus, a journey from prosecution to freedom,” he said, recounting how the founding fathers of the US “turned to the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible.”
Noting that Israel will in May mark 70 years since its founding Pence switched to Hebrew to recite “Shehecheyanu,” a Jewish prayer of thanksgiving, which translates to: “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.” This was met with an enthusiastic standing ovation from his listeners.
“70 years ago, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel. As you know, the work we began that day remains unfinished,” he said, lamenting the fact that “one American administration after another refused to recognize your capital” until Trump’s historic recognition last month.
“By finally recognizing Jerusalem, the United States has chosen fact over fiction—and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” the vice president said.
The United States, he said, knows that “Israelis want peace, and we know Israelis need no lectures on the price of war. The people of Israel know the terrible price all too well … You also know best what the blessings of peace can bring to you, your children and future generations.”
The US vice president spoke of the fight being led by the US against terrorism worldwide. “We will continue to bring the full force of our might to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the earth,” he vowed.
He singled out Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism and attacked the nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers—including the United States.
“The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement,” he declared to yet another round of applause.
“We’re working to enact effective and lasting restraints on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic programs,” Pence added, repeating President Trump’s warning that unless the nuclear deal is fixed, the US will withdraw from the agreement.
“I have a solemn promise to Israel, the Middle East and the world—the United States will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” he vowed, adding that the US “will also no longer tolerate Iran’s support of terrorism or its brutal oppression of its own people.”
Pence also had a message “from the people of America to the proud and great people of Iran: We are your friends. And the day is coming when you will be freed from the evil regime that suffocates your dreams and buries your hopes. And when your day of liberation finally comes, we say to the good people of Iran: The friendship between our peoples will blossom once again.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke ahead of Pence, alternated between Hebrew and English. “It’s fitting that you are the first American vice president to speak at the Knesset in Jerusalem, because no American vice president has had a greater commitment to Israel and its people,” Netanyahu began in English.
“You stood shoulder to shoulder with President Trump over the past year to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. It is truly an honor to have you address the Knesset today,” the prime minister continued.
Netanyahu then switched to Hebrew, telling the vice president he wanted to speak “in the language of our people.”