Reuters Jerusalem, Israel
Jan 22, 2018, 08.46 AM
US Vice President Mike Pence met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks on Monday, the second day of a visit to Israel that has been boycotted by the Palestinians.
The two men made no comment as Netanyahu welcomed Pence to his office in Jerusalem, where the US vice president reviewed an Israeli honour guard.
It is the highest-level US visit to the region since President Donald Trump on December 6 recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and promised to begin the process of moving the American embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Outraged at Trump's Jerusalem declaration, a move that reversed decades of US policy on the city's status, the Palestinians are snubbing Pence. President Mahmoud Abbas left for an overseas visit before the vice president's arrival.
Nor is Pence, an evangelical Christian who has been vocal on the subject of protecting Christians in the Middle East, scheduled to make any private trips to Palestinian areas such as Bethlehem, a city whose Christian significance usually draws Western dignitaries.
US officials have said an embassy move from Tel Aviv could take up to three years. But there has been speculation that Pence could announce a stop-gap arrangement, such as the conversion of one of the US consulate buildings in Jerusalem to a de facto embassy.
Netanyahu has said he expected at least an interim arrangement to go into effect very soon, perhaps within a year.
Trump has made no firm public commitment on timing, saying: "By the end of the year? We're talking about different scenarios - I mean, obviously, that would be on a temporary basis."
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their own future state. Israel regards all of the city as its "eternal and indivisible capital".
With the Palestinians boycotting Pence, the visit provides a little obvious opportunity to build bridges towards peace.
But it gave Pence and Netanyahu, a right-winger who has hailed U.S. evangelicals for their support of Israel, an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the visit and their own warm relationship for a conservative American Christian community that serves as a power base for Trump and his vice president.
Later on Monday, Pence will address the Israeli parliament, whose Arab members said they would boycott the event. On Tuesday, he will attend Judaism's Western Wall in Jerusalem and lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance centre in the city.