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US Vice President Mike Pence lands in Israel, Netanyahu issues a warm welcome

US Vice President Mike Pence waves as he steps off a plane upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on January 21, 2018 on his delayed Middle East tour after visiting Egypt and Jordan
Jack GUEZ (AFP)
Pence will not meet any Palestinians following the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

American Vice-President Mike Pence has landed to Israel around 7pm local time on Sunday, in a much awaited and delayed trip first expected in December.

Pence will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, and is scheduled to have talks with President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday.

"We welcome this evening the Vice President of the United States, a great friend of Israel, Mike Pence, who landed here," Netanyahu remarked as the Foreign Ministry Ambassador's Conference upon the US officials arrival.

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"I will discuss with him two issues: peace and security," Netanyahu said, expressing his support for "American leadership in leading the political process" and reiterating that "there is no substitute." Adding that, "those who are not willing to discuss peace with the Americans do not want peace."

On the second topic of security he sent a sharp message to European countries stating, "I suggest that they take President Trump's words seriously. If they want to preserve the nuclear agreement with Iran, they must propose amendments to the agreement, which will prevent it from becoming nuclear and will threaten them and the entire world."

US Vice President Mike Pence set off for the Middle East on Friday for a trip overshadowed by controversy over plans to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Pence had been due to travel in December last year, but Arab anger over President Donald Trump's decision to declare Jerusalem Israel's capital saw many planned meetings cancelled.

The deadly protests that erupted at the time have subsided, but Pence may still face a cold welcome in some capitals and concern over the fate of the UN aid agency for Palestinians (UNRWA).

Washington has delayed a $65 million funding package for the cash-strapped body, putting at risk operations to feed, teach and heal thousands of Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian leadership, already stunned and furious over the Jerusalem decision, has denounced the US administration and had already refused to meet Pence during his planned December trip.

Beyond refusing to meet Pence, Abbas has said the United States can no longer serve as mediator in Middle East peace talks and the Palestinians were planning a general strike on Tuesday to protest Trump's declaration.

Before arriving to Israel, Pence paid a surprise visit to an American military base at the border between Jordan and Syria.

Ahead of his arrival, Arab-Israeli lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List faction said that they would boycott Pence’s planned speech at the Knesset on Monday in protest of the decision.

Announcing the decision to go through with an earlier promise to snub the address, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh dismissed Pence as a “dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region.”

Netanyahu on Sunday slammed as “a disgrace” Arab-Israeli lawmakers’ plan to boycott US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech in protest of Washington’s backing of Israel’s claim over the disputed city of Jerusalem.

Avi Ohayun/GPO

Below is the schedule of Pence's trip to Israel, which comes after visits in Egypt and Jordan.

Sunday, January 21st

18:15 Arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where he will be welcomed Tourism Minister Yariv Gideon Levin.

Monday, January 22nd

10:00 Welcome ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.

13:30 Visit to the Knesset: Address the plenum and meet with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

20:00 Dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. Press conference before dinner.

Tuesday, January 23rd

10:45 Meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

12:00 Tour of Yad-Vashem, the Holocaust museaum, including wreath-laying ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance.

13:45 Visit to the Western Wall, at the presence of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

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