Reuters Jerusalem, Israel
Jan 23, 2018, 01.08 PM
US Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the timing of a long-awaited US Middle East peace initiative depends on the return of Palestinians to negotiations.
President Donald Trump's advisers have been working on the outlines of a plan for some time. But Palestinians ruled out Washington as a peace broker after the US leader's December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"The White House has been working with our partners in the region to see if we can develop a framework for peace," Pence told Reuters in an interview in Jerusalem on the last leg of his three-day Middle East trip. "It all just depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table."
Trump's Jerusalem move angered the Palestinians, sparked protests in the Middle East and raised concern among Western countries that it could further destabilize the region.
Pence said he and the president believed the decision, under which the United States also plans to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would improve peacemaking prospects.
Pence discussed the Jerusalem issue during talks with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday and Jordan's King Abdullah on Sunday. He said the two leaders had agreed to convey to the Palestinians that the United States was eager to resume peace talks.
"We want them (the Palestinians) to know the door is open. We understand they're unhappy with that decision but the president wanted me to convey our willingness and desire to be a part of the peace process going forward," Pence said.
Pence said the US State Department would spell out details in the coming weeks about a plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
Israeli media have speculated that a 2019 embassy move could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win reelection in a vote scheduled for November of that year.
Asked if he hoped for Netanyahu's reelection, Pence said: "I'm a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but I don't get a vote here."