Thousands of police deploy ahead of Pence’s visit to Israel
Roads in Jerusalem to be blocked during US vice president’s stay, with US security services also involved in preparations
Israel is bracing for US Vice President Mike Pence’s two-day visit, with thousands of police officers taking part in special security operations and residents preparing for wide-scale traffic disruptions, particularly in Jerusalem where his visit will focus.
Pence is set to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport Sunday evening from Jordan, marking the first visit to Israel of a senior American official since the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.
Israel police have completed security preparations for the visit, the police said in a statement, adding that Israel’s Border Police, counter-terror units and US security services are also involved in the efforts.
“The security operation includes thousands of policemen and officers carrying out security measures during the vice president’s visit and police units will be in all areas where the vice president will be visiting,” the statement said.
Police have also set up a phone number, 110, “for the public to be in touch with us if assistance and information is required.”
Heightened security measures will continue until Tuesday.
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.
Ahead of his arrival, 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.
In a Twitter post Saturday, Odeh said his party would go through with 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 being boycotted 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.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.