Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to Israeli parliament was disrupted Monday after Arab lawmakers held up placards and got in a brawl with security staff in protesting the U.S.'s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Lawmakers from the Arab Joint List, Israel’s third-biggest party, were forcibly ejected from the speech that they had earlier promised to boycott.
Ahmad Tibi, member of the Joint List and Israel’s most popular Arab politician, told Newsweek before the address that he would remain inside the Knesset building. As to where inside the building he would be, he said, “You will see,” forewarning the placard protest. Newsweek has reached out to Tibi for further comment.
Footage showed Israeli security officers ripping the placards from the lawmakers’ hands before engaging in a tussle to get them out of the hall.
In his speech, Pence said America stood with Israel and that Trump had made history by moving the embassy, which would be moved before the end of 2019.
“Our president made his decision in the best interest of the United States,” he said. “We believe his decision is in the best interest of peace.”
Of the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he said, “The United States has chosen fact over fiction.”
Pence added that Trump said that if both sides agreed, then the U.S. would “support a two-state solution.”
Pence also called on Palestinians to return to negotiations despite their anger over Trump's decision. Palestinian politicians said the U.S. could no longer be an honest broker in talks with Israelis.
Pence had earlier expressed his honor at being in “Israel’s capital,” in a move that continued Washington’s break with decades of policy toward the conflict.
Netanyahu also addressed the special parliamentary session to honor Pence, introducing him to lawmakers and calling Trump’s decision one of the most historic in the history of Zionism, the ideology that underpins the idea of a Jewish state.
The Israeli leader compared Trump's decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to the Balfour Declaration, the British document that pledged support for a homeland for the Jewish people.
“It’s fitting that you are the first American vice president to speak at the Knesset in Jerusalem, fitting because no American vice president has had a greater commitment to Israel and its people,” he said.
When the pair met earlier in the day, Pence called it the “dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to a decades-long conflict.” Netanyahu said the Israeli-U.S. relationship had “never been stronger.”
The vice president was joined at the morning ceremony by White House Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who has ties to the West Bank settler movement, and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer. They watched Pence’s speech later in the afternoon from the Knesset’s VIP balcony.
The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv personally invited leaders of the West Bank settler movement to attend the speech. The majority of the international community considers the Jewish outposts in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where hundreds of thousands now live, to be illegal under international law.
Pence has been received warmly by Israel’s right-wing government, which has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s moves in favor of its aims to obtain recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Much of the international community considers Jerusalem to be contested and its status to be negotiated directly between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinians declined to meet with Pence on the trip. Instead, Mahmoud Abbas met with foreign ministers of the European Union on Monday, with the potential recognition of a Palestinian state at the top of their agenda. Abbas was expected to tell the bloc to take the step in reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
Trump’s second-in-command had canceled a visit to the region in December 2017, citing the passing of tax reform, but observers pointed out that Muslim and Christian leaders in Egypt and Israel refused to meet Pence.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of any future state, in the War of 1967. The city is home to some of the holiest shrines in Islam and Judaism.
They include the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims consider to be the third-holiest in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina.
It is also known as the Temple Mount to Jews, the holiest place in Judaism and the site of two biblical Temples. Jews cannot pray at the site as it is still controlled by a Palestinian-Jordanian waqf, or Islamic trust.
Pence spoke to the Israeli parliament but not to all the country’s lawmakers. Arab politicians boycotted his address, citing the Trump administration’s decision to effectively recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Pence pressed for the U.S. embassy to be moved to Jerusalem and indicated that discussions on it are off the table,” Tibi told Newsweek before the address. “This administration is part of the problem and not part of the solution.”