Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States Vice President Mike Pence embrace during joint speeches on January 22, 2018..
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech in the Knesset on Monday was everything that someone hoping for no change in the status between Israel and the Palestinians could hope for.
In the first visit to Israel by a high-ranking US official since President Donald Trump’s declaration last month that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the resultant uproar it caused around the world, Pence doubled down on the US alliance to Israel’s views – the whole “good versus evil” and “right versus wrong” analogy.
It’s a good thing the Joint List MKs were hustled out of the plenum after their tacky display of disrespect at the beginning of Pence’s speech. Otherwise, they might have charged the podium at Pence’s implication that Palestinians were evil and wrong.
Pence paid lip service to the importance of the resumption of contact between the sides, a call that was applauded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his seat. But when the vice president reiterated Trump’s position that the final status of Jerusalem’s and other disputed areas’ borders were open to negotiation if both sides arrived at the end game of a two-state solution, the prime minister sat passively.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Israeli Kenesset (YouTube/US Embassy in Israel)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog was the only Israeli speaker – as opposed to Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein – to talk about the importance of engagement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu and Edelstein only mentioned the Palestinians to slam Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s deplorable rewrite of history in his speech in Cairo last week.
For the Israeli government, it seems that the pedal to the metal support from Trump, Pence and Nikki Haley has provided a “get out of jail free” card. The US is in our pocket so we don’t have to make any moves toward the Palestinians because we will always be backed up by our friends in Washington.
Instead of giving Israel the confidence and strength to take the initiative and search for ways to move forward, such support can have the opposite effect – do nothing and let the situation fester.
Which raises the question: What does being the most pro-Israel politician to ever serve in such a high US political office, as Pence was described in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post,
actually mean? Does being pro-Israel mean accepting Israel’s policies and decisions with no questions asked? Or does it mean using that convergence of values and worldview to create new ideas and paths that will benefit Israel and its neighbors?
Pence and his boss are indeed friends of Israel. But friends need to help each other out of tight spots, confront each other with challenges and not simply behave as yes men.
The upshot of the Knesset speeches by Pence and Netanyahu was to put all the blame on the Palestinians and none on Israel. The facts may point to that being correct, but the like-minded viewpoints may have a gray lining.
The mutual support system that the Israeli and US administrations have created and are showering on each other certainly creates a warm glow for those who shivered with cold under the Obama administration.
And perhaps Trump’s “Jerusalem is capital of Israel” gambit may indeed pay off by forcing the Palestinians back to negotiations as a junior partner. But real friends are those who help you make hard choices.
And Pence’s speech only reinforced the feeling that Israel doesn’t have to make any choices at all.