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Middle East

Pence angers Palestinians on Mid-East visit but Arab states play it cool

media Mike Pence in front of the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, 23 janvier 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Although Palestinians and Arab Knesset members were angered by US Vice-President Mike Pence's speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday, the countries he visited on his Middle East tour did not give him as cold a reception as he might have feared, given President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Pence announced on Monday that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem at the end of 2019, a further slap in the face of Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state.

But Arab anger at Trump's announcement was not as intense as might have been expected.

“The significance of this trip is that we started talking with the American administration,” says Musa Shtewi, the director of the Center for Strategic Studies of Jordan.

It is an unfortunate visit.

Pence in Israel 23/01/2018 - by Jan van der Made Listen

“It was a chance for Jordan to listen to the thinking of the Trump administration vis-à-vis the region and the Middle East."

Jordan had the chance to put forward its own position, he argued.

"We are still advocating the two-state solution, also emphasising that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. And this should be decided on a negotiation process according to international law that guarantees not only the Palestinian rights, but also the consideration of the security of Israel."

Palestinians claim pro-Israel bias

But Palestinians were angry about Pence's tour.

“It is an unfortunate visit,” says politician Mustafa Bargouthi, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative. “Because Pence decided to reiterate the American recognition of Jerusalem as a capital of Israel without saying that Jerusalem should also be the capital of Palestine."

Pence's speech to the Knesset was "extremely biased to Israel",  Barghouti argued, taking particular exception to the vice-president's declaraion that "This is an example of democracy" as Arab members were "beaten, forced out of the Knesset" when they protested at the start of his speech.

“Another mistake he did was to accept that his ambassador has invited illegal settlers to attend his speech," Barghouti added.

Jewish settlers delighted

But the settlers themselves are overjoyed. They see the speech of Pence as a confirmation that Israel's settlement policy has the blessing of the US.

“Hopefully, we will break EU control over what I call the non-governmental kingdom that exists in the territories in terms of all these millions of dollars going into various agencies that are supporting Palestinian society,” says Yisrael Medad, spokesperson for settlers living in in the Shiloh settlement, just north of Ramallah in the West Bank. “Not allowing it to develop the way it should, keeping it in its old, inciteful, terrorism-supporting mode.

“This is not conducive to peace, it is not conducive to coexistence, it is not conducive to any sort of rational discourse between the Israeli people and the Arabs living in the Palestinian Authority territories,” he told RFI.

With the Palestinians declaring that the US is no longer a serious peacebroker in the region, Pence's visit seems to have further deepened divisions in one of the world's most troubled regions.

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