In his address before Israel’s legislature on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence said President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital was keeping his promise to the American people, and righting “a 70-year wrong.”
But that decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish state, announced by Mr. Trump in December along with a pledge to move the U.S. embassy there, continues to infuriate Palestinians who consider east Jerusalem the capital of their future state. The anger colored Pence’s first official trip to the Middle East, which also included stops in Egypt and Jordan. Palestinian officials refused to meet with Pence during his visit, and security guards ejected 13 Arab lawmakers from the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, who were waving posters that said in Arabic and English that read “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”
Pence said the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would happen before the end of 2019, which is earlier than previous estimates.
Here’s what Pence’s trip means for the future of U.S.-Palestinian relations, and prospects for peace in the region.
Bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table will be no easy task. In his speech, Pence reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and urged the Palestinians to return to the table. But “I don’t think there are any prospects” for a U.S.-brokered peace deal, said Daniel Kurtzer, professor of Middle East policy studies at Prince University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Kurtzer was ambassador to Egypt under President Bill Clinton and ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush.
“Opportunities for peace,” as Pence said in his remarks, are a “cruel joke,” wrote Shibley Telhami, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, on Twitter. Telhami noted that Pence tailored his messages depending on the country he was visiting.
Speaking before VP Pence in Israel's Knesset, Netanyahu stresses 'historic' importance of Trump's Jerusalem stance for Zionism, comparing it to the 2017 Balfour Declaration, and the 1948 American recognition of Israel — as Pence had just 'assured' his Arab hosts it's no big deal pic.twitter.com/LfoIYIeWBW
— Shibley Telhami (@ShibleyTelhami) January 22, 2018
The reaction from the Palestinians indicate that “the United States is no longer acceptable to them as a third-party mediator,” and they have rejected the terms of a prospective U.S.-brokered plan, Kurtzer said. “It appears that the Trump administration’s idea of negotiating the ultimate deal is dead in the water.”
If the U.S. can’t broker a peace deal, who will?
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, met Monday in Brussels with European Union foreign ministers, who reaffirmed their commitment to the two-state solution with “Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs.
However, a peace plan run by the Europeans — or the Chinese or Japanese, who also have offered to host peace talks — would be unacceptable by the Israelis, Kurtzer said. Just as the Palestinians believe the U.S. wouldn’t be an honest broker, the Israelis think the Europeans would favor the Palestinians in any negotiations. The Palestinians and Israelis could come back to the table without a third-party negotiator, but that seems unlikely, he said.
“It’s looking pretty bleak,” agreed David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Middle East Project.
“If there were any hopes for a breakthrough on a peace deal, I’d say that’s pretty remote after the Jerusalem decision,” he said.
The only way to re-engage the Palestinians: A statement from Trump that says the U.S. also recognizes a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, with an American Embassy for the Palestinians, according to Kurtzer. In addition, “everybody would have to tone down the rhetoric and that would include Abbas, not just [Trump].”
Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times in Jerusalem describes how the Trump administration is “doubling down” on its support of Israel.