US Vice President Mike Pence prays at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Mike Pence, vice president of the United States of America, came to the Middle East and to Jerusalem to firm up friendships and to galvanize relationships.
That was his agenda. That is what he accomplished. The vice president did not come to patronize. He did not come to moralize about the virtues of peace.
The ridicule and invective that many in the mainstream press have heaped upon Pence in evaluating his trip and the speech he delivered before the Knesset is at best, misguided.
At worst, it is pure hyperbole.
An editorial in The New York Times, the undisputed paper of record, insisted that the “trip did not go as planned.” That is as if to say that the goals and objectives of the trip were not fulfilled. That would be correct if they had understood the goals and objectives of the trip, but surely, they did not. That point was made when the editorial went on to write that one of the trip’s goals was “to nudge the Israelis and Palestinians toward peace.”
The speech Vice President Pence delivered at the Knesset was written with one specific goal in mind. The vice president, in conjunction with his boss in Washington, wanted to make it perfectly clear that the United States is committed to Israel as more than an ally, that the US is a true friend of Israel.
That goal was simple to articulate, but hard to achieve. The language of the speech needed to steer clear of preaching and moralizing. Pence needed to convey his country’s commitment and love as more than a political stance to placate a single party or leader. He wanted to touch the average Israeli and he did that by reaching deep into their souls and touching on that which makes Israel special. He articulated what Israelis know themselves but sometimes have difficulty putting into words.
And then, in response, a column in Haaretz
derisively proclaimed that the vice president was “more Zionist than the Zionists.” And pundits and talking heads across America bemoaned that it will be just about impossible to roll back such a pro-Israel speech and still convince the Palestinians that the US can still be counted on to build the bridges leading to peace.
On this issue these usually smart analysts totally missed the point.
The purpose of Pence’s visit was not to push for a peace plan between the Israelis and the Palestinians. How could it be? The Palestinians were boycotting him. They made it publicly clear that they were not even going to meet with the vice president of the United States on his first official trip to the region. Egypt and Jordan met with him. They understood Pence’s mission. They know that Pence sought them out to affirm the bond the US has created with these two Middle Eastern states that have peace treaties with Israel.
During those visits Vice President Pence emphasized that whatever differences do exist are marginal. He was there to make it clear that the important strategic link connecting Egypt, Jordan and the US is what matters.
Part of that link is the fight against Islamic extremism, another part is their treaties with Israel.
The Palestinians understand the reason for this trip by the vice president.
Months ago they realized that the Trump administration was actively patching up the damage the Obama administration had done to Israel. But rather than manning up, Palestinian leadership chose the adolescent response. Shunning the US was the equivalent of thinking you can punish your parents by closing your bedroom door. Boycotting the US vice president was an immature reaction.
It was also self-defeating. The Palestinians have nowhere else to go to achieve their goals. The European Union cannot help them. China, Russia and the Arab world aren’t helping them. The Palestinians made yet another in a series of tactical mistakes.
If they had thought it through they would have realized that the US, through Vice President Pence, could have helped them. Had he been invited to deliver a speech in Ramallah it would have been as forthright and compelling as the speech he delivered in the Knesset. The vice president would have articulated the US commitment to finding a solution to the problem plaguing Palestinians and Israelis.
Pence’s message was unlike that of president Barack Obama who, at a Reform temple in Manhattan, explained his decision to chastise, humiliate and endanger Israel by not vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israel by explaining that friends need to criticize friends.
The Pence speech was a stark departure from the last administration. Of course there will be disagreements between the US and Israel, but those disagreements will be handled discreetly and behind closed doors. Israel will not be marginalized, manipulated or endangered by the US in the Security Council or anywhere else.
This trip was a successful one. President Donald Trump was able to express unwavering support for Israel. Vice President Pence was his willing messenger.The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show
Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.