Pence on US embassy: Next year, in Jerusalem

The Trump administration has decided to double down on its Israeli embassy play, in rather dramatic fashion. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Vice President Mike Pence declared in the Knesset earlier today, part of a Middle East tour that has already generated some flak from other regional allies. Pence pledged that the US would not only refuse to back down from that recognition but would accelerate the timetable for its embassy move to Jerusalem:

The U.S. embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday.

“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” Pence said in a speech to the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital — and, as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to begin initial preparations to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said Pence, explaining the decision. He did not give an exact date.

Pence’s visit to the Knesset prompted a demonstration from thirteen Arab Israeli lawmakers who were ushered out at the start of his speech. The rest of the Knesset clapped and cheered to drown out the protests as the members got escorted out of the room:

The leader of the Joint Arab List expressed no regret in the “legitimate protest” against the “Trump-Netanyahu regime”:

The Palestinians have snubbed Pence on this trip in protest of the Trump administration’s official recognition of Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas has reached out to the EU to take over leadership of the peace process, which would almost certainly not be received well in either Brussels or by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Pence invited the Palestinians to re-enter negotiations under US auspices, saying that the door is always open:

Vice President Mike Pence says the “door’s open” for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with Israel on a peace agreement.

Pence spoke to The Associated Press in an interview following his address to the Knesset on Monday. He says the U.S. is hopeful that the Palestinian Authority “will be encouraged to return to the table.”

Palestinian leaders have assailed the U.S. for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying it is no longer impartial. They have rejected the U.S. role in future peace talks.

At this point, it’s not much of a loss. The talks were moribund before Trump took office, and they weren’t going to improve regardless of what Trump did. The Obama administration tried to undermine Netanyahu by shifting the goalposts on new construction, needlessly creating a new impasse and pushing the Israelis into an impossible bargaining position, and then added to the problem by pushing for a return to “pre-1967 borders,” to which no Israeli government would agree. That raised expectations to an unrealistic level among Palestinians, which leaves Abbas just as stuck.

With that in mind, Trump has decided to recognize reality, and in doing so force the Palestinians to confront it as well. They can only improve their situation by engaging on what is possible and to stop demanding the impossible, especially to the so-called “right of return” that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state. And time is running out on this reality check, too; the Sunni states that have exploited the Palestinians for their own internal purposes are much too busy with the other nightmare left by the Obama administration — a rising Iranian state that seeks to dominate the region, both militarily and religiously. They’re finding out that Israel might be a good ally in that fight and can do far more for them than the fractious Palestinians, especially with Hamas’ ties to Tehran in mind.

If the Palestinians want to get on board, Pence just gave them a timeline. Tick tock.

Addendum: The timetable Pence offers here strongly suggests that the first US embassy in Jerusalem will have to be an upgraded consulate. A two-year timeline is very short to build an all-new embassy.