Arab MKs to skip Pence’s Knesset speech over Jerusalem moves
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Arab MKs to skip Pence’s Knesset speech over Jerusalem moves

Joint (Arab) List leader says 'the US has lost its place as the exclusive mediator of negotiations' after recognizing Israel's capital

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

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

Arab Israeli lawmakers will skip US Vice President Mike Pence’s address to the Knesset next week in protest of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In a statement on Wednesday, Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh said the 13-member party will boycott the Monday parliament address “to send a clear message to the US administration and the world that there are citizens here who strongly oppose Trump’s declaration and to clarify that the US has lost its place as the exclusive mediator of negotiations.”

“West Jerusalem will be recognized as Israel’s capital by the whole world as soon as the government of Israel recognizes East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state,” added Odeh.

Pence is set to address Israel’s parliament next Monday, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Odeh’s announcement came hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians won’t accept any future role for the US in the peace process due to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, and threatened to pull out of existing agreements with the Jewish state.

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

The Palestinian Authority has also said it will refuse to meet with the US vice president during his trip to the region. Over the weekend, Abbas’s diplomatic adviser said the meeting with Pence was canceled “because the US has crossed red lines” on Jerusalem. Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party, echoed the sentiment, saying last week that Pence was “not welcome in Palestine.”

In response to the snub, the White House accused the Palestinians of “walking away” from peace efforts.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

In his address last week, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites. The final status of Jerusalem is a key issue in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim the eastern neighborhoods of the city as their future capital.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, but rejected by the international community.

Underlining how the city served as Israel’s capital, Trump in his remarks also noted the location of the Knesset in Jerusalem.

“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the Prime Minister and the President. It is the headquarters of many government ministries,” said the US president.

During his May trip to Israel, Trump wanted to give the major address of his Israel visit at the Knesset, but Israel couldn’t guarantee that lawmakers — known to yell out during speeches — would behave, Edelstein revealed that month. Trump instead spoke at the Israel Museum to a selected audience.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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