By Jenna Johnson and Loveday Morris,
AMMAN — In pointed public remarks, Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Vice President Pence on Sunday that he had repeatedly warned Washington about the risks of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he hoped the United States would now “reach out” and find the right way to move forward.
At a meeting at his palace in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Abdullah said that he had been encouraged by President Trump’s commitment to bringing a solution to decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — but that Jerusalem is key to achieving peace.
“I had continuously voiced over the past year, in my meetings with Washington, my concerns regarding the U.S. decision on Jerusalem that does not come as a result of a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said, addressing Pence and his delegation from across a dining table laid out for lunch. “Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations.”
He added that it is “very important” to find a way to move forward with a two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state formed on pre-1967 borders, living side by side with a “secure and recognized” Israel. “Your visit here, I am sure, is to rebuild the trust and confidence,” he said.
Pence described the conversation as “candid but cordial” and said that “friends occasionally have disagreements.”
Pence’s regional tour is aimed partly at smoothing over relations with U.S. allies in the wake of Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
After leaving Amman, the vice president visited U.S. troops at a military facility near the Syrian border, where he blamed Democrats in the Senate for the government shutdown.
“I’m sure you’re all aware of what’s going on in Washington, D.C.,” Pence said. “Despite bipartisan support for a budget resolution, a minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay. But you deserve better. You and your families shouldn’t have to worry for one minute about whether you’re going to get paid because you serve in the uniform of the United States. So know this: Your president, your vice president and the American people are not going to put up with it.”
American elected officials typically do not engage in political speech when addressing members of the armed services. When asked about that later by a reporter, Pence paused and then said the troops are “Americans who are literally paying the price.” He added: “I wanted these soldiers to know that we are with them” and that “we’re going to work earnestly to move this process forward, to reopen the government.” He then repeated his attack on the “Democrats in the Senate.”
Before he left Washington for Egypt, the first stop on the trip, the vice president said that he hoped the U.S. decision on Jerusalem would help rather than hinder a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. He reiterated Sunday that he hoped that the Palestinians “will soon reengage.” But the Palestinian leadership has reacted with anger to the decision and has refused to meet with Pence, and other regional allies have spoken out against the move.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that Trump’s decision marks the end to the United States being a sole broker for the peace process. Israeli Arab members of Israel’s parliament said they would boycott Pence’s visit to the country this week.
Speaking to Abdullah on Sunday, Pence said that the Jerusalem decision was “historic.” He said that the United States is committed to continuing to respect Jordan’s role as the custodian of the city’s holy sites and that Washington has made no decision on boundaries or the final status of the city, which are subject to negotiations.
Trump, however, said in a tweet earlier this month that Jerusalem was “off the table” for negotiations, drawing further ire from Palestinians.
“The United States of America remains committed, if the parties agree, to a two-state solution,” Pence said. “We are committed to restarting the peace process, and Jordan does now and has always played a central role in facilitating peace in the region.”
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt are expected to present a peace plan this year, although the Jerusalem announcement has complicated the process.
Last week, Abbas expressed anger that the Palestinians were offered the suburb of Abu Dis as their capital instead of East Jerusalem, and he slammed the U.S. decision to cut aid to the Palestinians. Abbas said he would escalate efforts to have a Palestinian state recognized internationally while holding Israel accountable at the International Criminal Court. He is due to meet European Union foreign ministers Monday.
A few dozen demonstrators carrying flags and banners gathered Sunday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza probably will also stage protests to coincide with Pence’s visit. A small protest took place Sunday night in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab members of parliament, said Sunday that his faction of 13 lawmakers would probably stage a walkout as Pence speaks to the body, known as the Knesset, on Monday.
“Trump is whimsical, even racist,” Odeh said. “But Pence, with his evangelical ideology, is very dangerous. I do not want him to come here, give a speech and we all sit quietly and applaud him.”
Odeh added: “There are some people in this country that want to say to him that he is not welcome here. We want peace, with a Palestinian country next to Israel. Sitting quietly and listening to him is giving him legitimization. We want the Americans to know that there are some Israelis who do not see him as legitimate.”
The comments were criticized by other Israeli politicians.
At the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “disgrace” that certain lawmakers were planning to boycott or disrupt Pence’s “important visit in the Knesset.”
“We will all be there and share the great honor that he deserves,” he said.
Netanyahu said the two would discuss “Trump’s efforts to curb Iranian aggression and the Iranian nuclear program,” as well as peace and security.
“Those who truly aspire to these goals know that there is no substitute for the leadership of the United States,” Netanyahu said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, meanwhile, said he condemned the “outrageous” statements by Odeh in the “strongest terms.”
The U.S. decision on Jerusalem was seen in part as a political move to satisfy Trump’s base of white evangelical voters. Pence has gone further than Trump in his own declarations on Jerusalem, describing it as “the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
Pence’s stay in Israel, where he landed Sunday night, will include visits to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
“We welcome him with warmth and pride,” Netanyahu said, adding that he had a message for Abbas: “There is no alternative for American leadership in the diplomatic process.”
Before it was delayed last month, Pence’s trip was also billed as a chance for the vice president to check on the status of the region’s Christian minority. However, in the wake of the Jerusalem decision, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church said he would not meet with the vice president, and a trip to the West Bank city of Bethlehem was also scrapped.
The United States is steering $110 million in funds to rebuild Christian and religious minority communities in Iraq and Syria, Pence told Jordan’s Abdullah. He added that the United States remains committed to a “presence” in Syria, “not only to defeat ISIS, but to restrain the malign influence of Iran and other efforts in the region that would add to further destabilization.”
Morris reported from Jerusalem. Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.