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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that the United States would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” Pence said, addressing the Knesset, Israel’s lawmaking body, in Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and, as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to begin initial preparations to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had previously said the relocation would likely take years. But on Monday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed the administration “will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and will open the embassy before the end of the year.”
Nauert noted in the written statement that Tillerson “has been clear that safety and security is his top priority.”
Netanyahu thanked Trump and Pence for what he called the “historic statement” and declared the U.S.-Israel relationship has “never been stronger.”
Trump’s decision on Jerusalem brought sharp criticism from Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas who said the United States could no longer play a role in the peace process.
Arab members of parliament said they would boycott Pence’s speech. Netanyahu criticized that decision during a Cabinet meeting Sunday while calling Pence a “great and true friend of Israel.”
Before traveling to Israel, Pence was in Jordan where King Abdullah expressed concern about the Jerusalem decision and urged the United States to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the search for a two-state solution.
King Abdullah said the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the two-state solution long sought by the international community, and that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Pence said the two countries had agreed to disagree on the Jerusalem issue.
“Friends occasionally have disagreements, and we agreed to disagree on recognizing Jerusalem,” Pence told reporters after the meeting. “We agreed all parties need to come to the table. I hope I impressed on him our earnest desire to restart the peace process.”
Before Jordan, Pence visited Cairo, where he pledged the U.S. would continue to support Egypt in its battle against terrorism.
Pence also met with U.S. troops in the region before flying to Israel.