Chaos erupts as Arab-Israeli parliamentarians disrupt Pence speech

Anger boils over in wake of Trump administration's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

By DIMA ABUMARIA/ THE MEDIA LINE
January 22, 2018 17:47
3 minute read.

Arab Israeli lawmakers are escorted out of Israeli parliament during Vice President Mike Pence's speech (Reuters)

Arab Israeli lawmakers are escorted out of Israeli parliament during Vice President Mike Pence's speech (Reuters)

Chaos erupted in the Israeli parliament Monday as lawmakers from the Joint List - a coalition of Arab-Israeli parties— staged a raucous walk— out of US Vice President Mike Pence's speech. The move comes amid major discord between the Palestinian Authority and the White House primarily over the December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

In a statement, the Joint List claimed that the "US was never a fair moderator in the Middle East, but the current Trump administration has broken all the rules. It became a supporter of the Israeli right-wing and [Jewish] settlers [who live in the West Bank]." The political party described Pence's address as "a disgraceful [display of] support [in favor of] annexation, colonization and the continued occupation of Palestine".

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Pence arrived in Israel late Sunday night, beginning a three-day visit after short stopovers in Cairo and Amman, where he discussed President Trump's Jerusalem declaration with both Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II, respectively.

Ahead of the boycott, Ayman Odeh, Chairman of the Joint List, called Pence a "dangerous person" whose "messianic ideas" damage the entire Mideast. Odeh then referred to US President Donald Trump as "a political pyromaniac, a racist and a misogynist who must be prevented from trailblazing into our region."

Speaking to The Media Line, Joint List member Aida Touma-Suleiman explained that the party based its decision on the "current political situation", which is a product of the US vice president having "adopted the Jewish story that this land is their promised land." As such, she believes Pence's speech was geared towards "supporting the occupation and the [Israeli government's] extremist policies.

"Israeli society promotes Pence's visit as if he's welcome in Israel," Touma-Suleiman noted, before qualifying that "there is a Palestinian minority that doesn’t welcome him and considers his policies dangerous to the region". When asked whether the Joint List coordinated its position with Palestinian Authority, which also has boycotted Pence's visit, she confirmed that while members of her party agree with the PA on many issues, in this case "we were expressing our opinion as the Arab minority in Israel."

Joint List member Haneen Zoabi echoed these sentiments to The Media Line, stressing that Pence's speech completely adopts "Zionist extreme right-wing thoughts…and reflects an absolute ignorance of history". She stressed that residents of the region view Pence as a "weird" person and thus consider it "so rude [for him] to try to make decisions on [the] destinies of nations he's not familiar with."

In order to achieve peace, Zoabi urged Pence to "recognize the reality that Israel is committing war crimes against Palestinians, violating international laws and occupying Palestine."

By contrast, Zouheir Bahloul, an Arab-Israeli legislator for the opposition Zionist Union party, expressed disappointment over the Joint List's move. "I don't think it's the right thing to completely boycott the White House [as it formulates] American policy, whether we like it or not. I suggested the Joint List ask for a meeting with Pence in order to inform him of their positions," he elaborated to The Media Line, which, if denied, "would have [been] a valid reason to boycott him."

For his part, Arab-Israeli political analyst Ali Waked downplayed the situation, describing the walk-out as a "symbolic step" that will not alter the conditions on the ground. "It will not change American policy nor Israeli policy. Nor will it have an effect on the [Jewish]-Israeli or the Arab-Israeli streets. Some people will like their initiative, while others will not care", he contended to The Media Line. "Also, there are people who appreciate more practical steps as they understand that's what needed."

Following President Trump's decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Abbas declared an end to Washington's historical role as mediator of the peace process and said the PA would not engage in any diplomatic initiative spearheaded by the White House. To this end, the PA boss last week gave a widely-criticized speech in which he affirmed, in reference to President Trump, “may God demolish your house," while describing Israel as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Jews."

In a bid to garner international support, Abbas traveled to Brussels on Monday, where he called on the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state, saying such a move would encourage Palestinians to maintain hope for peace.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu admonished the PA chief, emphasizing that, “there is no alternative for American leadership.… Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace, does not want peace."


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