Pence defends Trump’s Israel policy during Middle East visit

Vice-president tells Egyptian president US would support two-state solution

Middle East visit: US vice-president Mike Pence in Amman. Photograph: Khalil Mazraa/AFP/Getty

Middle East visit: US vice-president Mike Pence in Amman. Photograph: Khalil Mazraa/AFP/Getty

 

US vice-president Mike Pence has defended Donald Trump’s move to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a decision that has touched off uneasiness among Arab nations on his first tour of the region.

Mr Pence met King Abdullah of Jordan on Sunday for discussions that are expected to include the Trump administration’s December decision on Israel’s capital and plans to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The vice-president met Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, on Saturday and hold him the United States would support a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians if the two sides agreed to it.

Mr Pence said he assured Mr Sisi that the US was committed to “preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem” and that boundaries and other issues would be negotiated between the parties.

“The United States of America is deeply committed to restarting the peace process in the Middle East,” Mr Pence said before departing for Jordan. He said he would be “delivering that message in Jordan, delivering that message in Israel, as well”.

“Head of the snake”

Ahead of his arrival, several dozen Jordanians gathered outside the US embassy in Amman, protesting against American policies in the Middle East. “America is the head of the snake,” they chanted. Some held up a banner reading: “The envoy of the Zionist American right wing is not welcome.”

The Trump administration’s dramatic policy shift on Jerusalem has posed a dilemma for Jordan’s monarch. Palestinians make up a large segment of Jordan’s population, and the ruling Hashemite dynasty largely derives its political legitimacy from its historic role as custodian of Jerusalem’s main Muslim shrine, the al-Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third-holiest site. Any perceived threats to Muslim claims to the city, such as Mr Trump’s shift on Jerusalem, undermine its vital role there.

At the same time, Jordan relies on US military and economic aid – $1.5 billion, or €1.2 billion, in 2015, and $1.6 billion, or €1.3 billion, last year – at a time of a worsening economic downturn and rising unemployment.

Mr Pence was also expected to meet US troops in the region on Sunday and then depart for Israel, where he is scheduled to hold meetings with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. – PA