'There is no alternative to the leadership of the US'

Ahead of Pence visit, PM says no progress on peace without American involvement

Netanyahu says calls by Arab MKs to boycott the US vice president’s address to the Knesset are a ‘disgrace’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Indiana Governor Michael Pence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Indiana Governor Michael Pence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Speaking ahead of the arrival of US Vice President Mike Pence in Israel on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there can be no progress toward peace in the region without the US playing a leading role.

His comments come with the Palestinians and other prominent Arabs refusing to meet with US officials in anger over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“This evening a great friend of the State of Israel, a true friend, US Vice President Mike Pence, will arrive in Israel,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

“We shall discuss efforts by the Trump administration to hinder Iran’s aggression and the Iranian nuclear program, and of course to promote security and peace in the region,” Netanyahu said. “Anyone who truly strives to achieve those goals knows there is no alternative to the leadership of the US.”

Highlights from Pence’s trip will include visits to the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, as well as a speech at a special plenary session in the Knesset which Arab lawmakers have said they will boycott.

Netanyahu called the boycott plans a “disgrace.”

“I see it as a disgrace that Knesset members are intending to boycott this important visit in the Knesset and even plan to disrupt it. We will all be there and will pay Vice President Pence the great respect he deserves,” he said.

On Saturday Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh said MKs in his party would not attend Pence’s Knesset speech due to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Joint (Arab) List party chairman Ayman Odeh reacts during a plenum session in the Knesset, January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a Twitter post Saturday, Odeh said his party would fulfill an earlier promise to skip Pence’s address to the Knesset plenum.

“[Pence] is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region,” he also said.

Odeh also attacked Trump, saying he was “even more dangerous” than Pence and a “political pyromaniac” and a “racist” woman-hater. He slammed the US president’s Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts and said Trump “must not have a [political] road map for the region.”

The Arab lawmaker said after Trump’s December 6 Jerusalem announcement that the US “has lost its place as the exclusive mediator of negotiations,” echoing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has struck out strongly at the Trump administration since the announcement on Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of their future state. Trump stressed in his speech that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital did not indicate a position its final boundaries, which he said should be decided in peace talks between the sides — a message Pence has been echoing in this visit to the region.

In addition to the boycott by Arab MKs, Pence is also being shunned by the PA and will not travel to Ramallah or meet with Palestinian leaders. The PA said it would not meet with any US officials regarding the peace process following Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem.

Pence’s visit to the region comes as Abbas has been ramping up his criticism of Trump and his peacemaking efforts. In a speech last Sunday, the PA leader called a peace plan being formulated by Trump the “slap of the century” and claimed Israel was a European “colonial project.”

In response to Abbas’s refusal to engage in American-brokered peace talks, the US has frozen tens of millions of dollars in aid to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, although the State Department said the second installment of funds was being held up due to the need for “reform” at the organization.

Pence comes to Israel following meetings in Jordan and Egypt where he has been trying to reassure Arab allies who are uneasy about Trump’s move to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

In a meeting Saturday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, he emphasized the US commitment to the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

Pence said he assured Sissi the US was committed to “preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem,” and 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,” Pence said before departing for Jordan. He said he would be “delivering that message in Jordan, delivering that message in Israel, as well.”

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