WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence delivered an impassioned address at AIPAC’s annual policy conference Sunday evening, vowing on behalf of a nascent administration to implement an unapologetically pro-Israel policy agenda, which included, he said, the continued possibility of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv,” Pence told a crowd of nearly 18,000 at the Verizon Center in the nation’s capital, who greeted his speech warmly.
US President Donald Trump first pledged to enact the relocation when he spoke as a candidate at the lobby’s same conference last year, and he repeatedly signaled his intent to follow through on that promise during the transition.
But since assuming office and the responsibilities of conducting foreign policy, he has wavered on any such plan. As of now, the US Embassy remains in Tel Aviv. Trump has signaled that it is something he would like to do eventually, but has also indicated it is unlikely any time soon.
The vice president also touched on three major themes of the administration’s foreign policy: strengthening the US-Israel relationship, preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal, and pursuing a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“President Trump has made clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s defense is non-negotiable,” he said. “Not now, not ever.”
The commander in chief, Pence said, is “interested in finding an equitable and just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
He referenced the latest round of talks between Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and an Israeli delegation, in which Greenblatt attempted to reach an understanding on settlements and create the conditions for negotiations to begin.
The vice president did not mention, however, the two-state solution as the outcome the administration would seek. The president himself has not explicitly endorsed that policy, although he also has not ruled it out.
During a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, Trump did not emulate his predecessors by insisting on a two-state solution. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said.
Greenblatt’s recent meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, were meant to send the message that Trump is “committed to forging a lasting peace in the Middle East,” Pence told AIPAC.
Pence sought to assure the audience that any peace plan the administration puts forward will not put Israel at risk. “President Trump will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish state,” he said to warm applause.
That commitment included a policy of confronting the Iranian regime. “America will stand strong in the face of the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Pence said. “This administration has put Iran on notice. America will no longer tolerate Iran’s attempts to destabilize the region and jeopardize Israel’s security.”
“Under President Trump,” he added, “America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Pence also struck a chord that evoked a resonance for this crowd of spirited pro-Israel advocates. “Under President Trump, the United States will no longer allow the United Nations to be used as a forum for invective against Israel,” he said, to roaring applause.
His speech came just three months after the Obama administration allowed passage — by not using its veto power — of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s settlement enterprise as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
The former Indiana governor suggested that Trump’s pick to represent the US to the world body, Nikki Haley, represents a change in American policy.
“Just look at the actions President Trump has taken since he took office, like naming Governor Nikki Haley to serve as ambassador to the United Nations,” he said, to loud cheers.
Haley, who will address the confab Monday evening, recently spearheaded a US boycott of the UN Human Rights Council for what the administration said was its anti-Israel bias.
Pence also paid tribute to Trump’s longtime friend and bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, who was confirmed last week by the Senate to be the next US ambassador to Israel.
“David is an unabashed advocated for a strong US-Israel relationship,” he said; the 57-year-old Long Island native, present at the conference, received a standing ovation. “I gotta tell you, I just can’t wait,” Pence continued. “This week, it will be my honor to administer the oath of office to Ambassador David Friedman.”
Despite Trump’s status as a divisive figure in the American Jewish community — he received just 25 percent of the Jewish vote in the 2016 elections — Pence thanked AIPAC’s supporters for helping him cross the electoral finish line last November.
“I’m here to pay gratitude to all of who you helped elect a man who I know will make America great again,” he said, repeating Trump’s signature catchphrase.
Pence went on to cite Trump’s statement during his address to Congress last month condemning the waves of anti-Semitic attacks terrorizing Jewish communities nationwide, including hoax bomb threats, vandalized Jewish graves and other hate crimes.
Last week, the Israel Police, after a joint investigation with the FBI, arrested an Israeli-American teenager from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon as a main suspect in the case involving the bomb scares at Jewish institutions in the US, Canada and elsewhere. The arrest of a Jewish suspect discomfited critics who had linked the hoax calls to the rise of Trump.
Many in the American-Jewish community had expressed frustration that it took Trump too long to specifically denounce anti-Semitism. Since January, some 150 bomb threats had been issued to JCCs, Jewish day schools and museums across the country.
“I was never more proud than during his first address to a joint session of Congress when he paused to condemn threats and acts of vandalism to Jewish community centers across America,” Pence said on Sunday.