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Pence arrives in Israel on visit overshadowed by Trump's Jerusalem declaration

From Reuters - January 21, 2018

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence began a visit to Israel on Sunday after being praised as a great friend by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and shunned by the Palestinians over U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israels capital.

It is the highest-level U.S. visit to the region since President Donald Trump made his declaration on Dec. 6 and promised to begin the process of moving the American embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the Palestinians boycotting Pence, the visit provides little obvious opportunity to build bridges toward peace.

But it gave Pence, a conservative Christian, and Netanyahu, a right-winger who has hailed U.S. evangelicals for their support of Israel, an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the visit and their own warm relationship for a community that serves as a power base for Trump and his vice president.

Before arriving in Israel, Pence held meetings with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan and U.S. officials traveling with him said that he had sought to encourage them to pressure the Palestinians to return to peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling Trumps declaration a slap in the face, has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel. Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.

Pence, who flew into Tel Avivs Ben-Gurion Airport from Jordan on a U.S. military plane after visiting U.S. troops on the Syrian border, was met by Israels tourism minister, Yariv Levin. Pence, who traveled to the Middle East despite a U.S. government shutdown, made no statement on arrival in Israel.

Netanyahu, addressing his cabinet earlier on Sunday, described Pence as a great friend of the State of Israel and said they would discuss U.S. efforts to halt Irans aggression, the Iranian nuclear program, and ways to advance peace and security in the region.

Anyone who truly wants to fulfill those goals knows there is no substitute to the United States leadership, said Netanyahu, who is due to hold talks with Pence on Monday.

Trumps shift on Jerusalem overturned decades of U.S. policy that its status should be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. His declaration drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders and widespread criticism elsewhere.

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