US to move embassy to Jerusalem by end-2019: Pence

JERUSALEM • The US Embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, US Vice-President Mike Pence said in a speech to the Israeli Parliament yesterday, which highlighted a policy shift that has stoked Palestinian anger and international concern.

Meanwhile, the European Union's foreign policy chief assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in Brussels that the EU supported his ambition to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

In his speech, Mr Pence urged the Palestinians to resume long-stalled peace talks with the Jewish state.

"Jerusalem is Israel's capital and as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Mr Pence said to prolonged applause from Israeli parliamentarians.

"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," he added.

It was the highest-ranking visit by a US official to the region since Mr Trump's Jerusalem declaration.

During a meeting with Mr Pence earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked: "This is the first time that I stand here where both leaders can say those three words: Israel's capital, Jerusalem."

The subject's sensitivity was evident throughout Mr Pence's visit. At the start of his address, Israeli Arab lawmakers, angry at the Dec 6 decision, tried to stage a protest from the floor of the Knesset. However, they were swiftly hustled out by ushers.

In the EU's latest rejection of Mr Trump's decision, the bloc assured Mr Abbas yesterday that it was committed to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, with Jerusalem shared by both sides.

"I want to reassure President Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states," the grouping's foreign policy chief, Ms Federica Mogherini, said during a meeting between the Palestinian leader and EU foreign ministers.

Mr Abbas said: "We are keen on continuing the way of negotiations. We are determined to reunite our people and our land."

But his call for the EU to immediately and officially recognise the state of Palestine was unlikely to be answered, two senior EU diplomats said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'US to move embassy to Jerusalem by end-2019: Pence'. Print Edition | Subscribe