Timing of Trump peace plan depends on Palestinians, says Mike Pence

TEL AVIV: US Vice-President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the timing of a long-awaited US Middle East peace initiative depends on the return of Palestinians to negotiations.
President Donald Trump’s advisers have been working on the outlines of a plan for some time.
But Palestinians ruled out Washington as a peace broker after the US leader’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“The White House has been working with our partners in the region to see if we can develop a framework for peace,” Pence said in an interview in Jerusalem on the last leg of his three-day Middle East trip. “It all just depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table.”
Trump’s Jerusalem move angered the Palestinians, sparked protests in the Middle East and raised concern among Western countries that it could further destabilise the region.
Pence said he and the president believed the decision, under which the United States also plans to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would improve peacemaking prospects.
Pence discussed the Jerusalem issue during talks with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi on Saturday and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.
He said the two leaders had agreed to convey to the Palestinians that the United States was eager to resume peace talks.
“We want them (the Palestinians) to know the door is open. We understand they’re unhappy with that decision but the president wanted me to convey our willingness and desire to be a part of the peace process going forward,” Pence said.
Pence said the US State Department would spell out details in the coming weeks about a plan to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
Israeli media have speculated that a 2019 embassy move could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win reelection in a vote scheduled for November of that year.
Asked if he hoped for Netanyahu’s reelection, Pence said: “I’m a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but I don’t get a vote here.”
Meanwhile, Pence visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, on Tuesday, as he wrapped up a trip to the disputed city Washington has declared Israel’s capital.
Pence and his wife Karen visited the wall separately as required by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities who govern the site under strict interpretation of religious law.
The vice-president, wearing a black skullcap, inserted a piece of paper inside a crack in the ancient wall’s stones in accordance with the tradition of leaving a prayer.
He then placed his right hand on the wall before stepping backwards and gazing at the site for a few moments and signing the guest book.
“It is my great honour to pray here at this sacred place. God bless the Jewish people and God bless the state of Israel always,” he wrote.
“Very inspiring,” Pence said after leaving.
The Western Wall is among the last remnants of the second Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It lies in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
Pence followed in the footsteps of Trump, who became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in May last year.
Since arriving on Sunday, Pence has repeatedly reaffirmed Trump’s December 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though he has reiterated that the final borders must be negotiated.
The Palestinians have been deeply angered by the declaration and are boycotting Pence’s visit. — Agencies