U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed America’s commitment to both peace and persecuted Christians during his four-day trip to Israel and the Middle East, which concluded on Tuesday.
In a Jan. 22 speech to the Knesset, Israel’s national legislature, Pence confirmed that the U.S. government intends to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
“Our President made his decision...we believe that his decision is in the best interests of peace. By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction. And fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” said Pence, who added that America will support a two-state solution if both Israel and Palestine are in agreement.
On Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel has traditionally always recognized Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. is the first country to do so since the state was established in 1948.
As a result of the announcement, Pence’s trip to the Middle East was postponed, taking on a new tone and focus.
Pence had posted on Twitter on Dec. 4, “Important dialogue with Bashar Warda, the Archbishop of Erbil, about @POTUS' commitment to directly assist persecuted Christians & religious minorities in Iraq. I’m heading to the Middle East this month to discuss U.S. plans to accelerate funding those impacted in the region.”
However, following Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, the Egyptian Coptic patriarch Tawadros II and other religious leaders stated that they would not meet with Pence.
Thirteen religious leaders in the region signed an open letter warning that the move would only lead to “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us father from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”
The announcement was also met with opposition from the Vatican, which has long called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
With stops in both Jordan and Egypt in additional to Israel, Pence cut his formerly planned visits to Bethlehem and the West Bank during his rescheduled four-day January trip this week.
Pence did have a chance to speak about U.S. plans to aid persecuted Christians towards the end of his speech to the Israeli parliament. He told Israeli lawmakers that the U.S. is dedicated to its assistance of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.
“We will also support faith leaders in this region and across the world, as they teach their disciples to practice love, not hate. And we will help persecuted peoples, who have suffered so much at the hands of ISIS and other terrorist groups,” he said.
“To this end, the United States has redirected funding from ineffective relief efforts. And, for the first time, we are providing direct support to Christian and other religious minorities as they rebuild their communities after years of repression and war.
“The United States has already committed more than $110 million to assist Christian and other religious minorities across the wider Middle East.”
The vice president rounded out his trip with a personal visit to the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Reflecting on his trip, Pence wrote of Israel on Twitter, “I never fail to leave without a sense our faith has been renewed - our faith in God, but also our faith in the people of Israel & their commitment to freedom, security & peace.”