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Pence says US Embassy to move to Jerusalem by end of 2019

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Vice President Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament Monday that the United States will open an embassy in Jerusalem by the end of 2019 to make good on recognizing the disputed holy city as Israel’s capital.

The Trump administration decision on Jerusalem outraged many world leaders and reversed decades of U.S. policy, which had held that the status of the city should be decided in final Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Palestinians also claim part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — and that the United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” Pence told the Knesset on the first full day of a two-day visit here.

Twelve Arab members of the Knesset and one Jewish member who had said they would boycott Pence’s speech in protest stood up and interrupted as the vice president began talking. They were surrounded by security personnel and roughly pushed out of the chamber.

Some of the lawmakers interrupting Pence’s speech held up signs that read, in English and Arabic, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”

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U.S. officials have said building an embassy in Jerusalem could take years. Pence’s remarks reflected an interim plan to retrofit an existing U.S. consulate in Jerusalem to serve as a full embassy.

Pence’s remarks came after he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and declared that he was in “Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” becoming the first high-ranking American official in recent memory to make such a statement.

The vice president, in the disputed city at the end of a four-day swing through the Middle East, thanked Netanyahu for the “warm hospitality” and then said the phrase American leaders had avoided for years.

“It is my great honor on behalf of the president of the United States to be in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem,” Pence said, as Netanyahu beamed at his side.

Pence and Netanyahu talked privately in the prime minister’s personal office for about 40 minutes, more the twice the amount of time originally scheduled for the meeting.

Netanyahu told reporters afterward that he has welcomed “hundreds” of world leaders, but that this was the first time a visiting leader could say he was in Israel’s capital.

“I want to thank President Trump and you for that historic victory, which I know you supported and championed,” he said to Pence, adding that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel “has never been stronger.”

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Behind the scenes, Pence has been advocating to officially move the U.S. Embassy here from Tel Aviv by the end of 2019, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. However, administration officials have said such a move takes time and planning, and the State Department previously had said it would take up to six years to build a new embassy, a position that gave some wiggle room for diplomacy.

As the leaders sat down to meet, a reporter asked if the U.S. Embassy can be moved to Jerusalem by next year.

“We can do it by next week,” Netanyahu quipped. Pressed on whether the embassy would be moved that soon, Netanyahu said, “No, but we want to do it, quickly.” Asked how important it was to him, Netanyahu said “very.”

(Bennett reported from Jerusalem and Wilkinson reported from Washington.)

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© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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