Proclaiming Jerusalem the true capital of the state of Israel, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. intends to open a new embassy in the city before the end of 2019.
“The United States has chosen fact over fiction,” Pence said during a speech Monday addressing Israel’s Knesset, or parliament.
He reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to “lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, noting that President Donald Trump’s administration won’t take a position on any status issues and reaffirming that it will support a two-state solution as long as both sides can agree. He urged the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table.
“I bring greetings from a leader who has done more to bring our two countries together than any leader in the last 70 years,” Pence said. “Thanks to the president’s leadership, the alliance between our two countries has never been stronger. I am here to convey a simple message from the heart of the American people: America stands with Israel.”
Israeli-Arab members of the Knesset protesting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital were escorted out after heckling Pence at the start of his speech.
Officials on both sides have floated widely differing timelines since last month’s announcement of the embassy move. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he thought it could happen this year. Trump disputed that in an interview with Reuters last week.
“By the end of the year? We’re talking about different scenarios — I mean obviously that would be on a temporary basis,” Trump said. “We’re not really looking at that. That’s no.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson estimated that the move was “probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious.”
Pence didn’t mention whether the State Department plans to construct a new building or move into an existing one, but media reports last week indicated that the U.S. may just retrofit a building the government already owns in West Jerusalem.
Trump officially declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, breaking with decades of U.S. foreign policy. The move was met with protests across the Middle East and Asia. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he no longer accepted the U.S. as any kind of mediator in peace talks with Israel.
In response, the U.S. decided to withhold $65 million in aid to Palestinians.
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”