United States Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Israel Sunday for a 48-hour visit that will include talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein, and an address before a special session of the Knesset on Monday. Pence will also visit the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem National Holocaust Memorial before departing Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking ahead of Pence’s arrival, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the vice president “a great friend of the State of Israel” and said he looked forward to discussing the efforts of the Trump administration to block Iran’s aggression and the Iranian nuclear program, and of course, advancing security and peace in the region.
“Whoever truly aspires to realize these goals knows that there is no substitute for US leadership,” Netanyahu said.
Pence deplaned after a 45 minute delay to a welcome ceremony on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport where he was greeted on the red carpet by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
“I congratulate you on arriving in Israel and I thank you for the important role you played in the President’s declaration and the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as our capital. We very much appreciate the brave friendship between our countries, and I am convinced you and your wife Karen will feel at home here,” Levin said.
The visit is largely seen as a celebration of the close relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Pence’s boss, US President Donald Trump following eight years of frosty ties between Netanyahu and Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Netanyahu was the first foreign leader to visit Trump at the White House last February and was visibly relieved following the meeting, joking with Trump during a joint press conference in a way he had never been able to do with Obama.
More substantively, and importantly for the notoriously thin-skinned Trump, government ministers have had virtually nothing but praise for the administration on a range of issues. A year ago, Israeli officials had hoped that the new US administration would bring with it a deep change in policy and outlook, and they have not been disappointed: Aside from internal political chaos, the Trump administration has defined itself as a straight-talking group of neo-politicians who take their cues from a president who has little time for traditional diplomacy.
To many Israelis, and especially members of the government, the new style has endeared itself to a generation of Israelis who have similarly little time for politically correct “diplomacy” that stands to convolute simple truth. Take, for instance, Friedman’s responses to Palestinian terror attacks: The ambassador Tweeted simply that January 9 murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach near his home in northern Samaria was a “cold blooded murder” and made no apologies about assigning blame for the lack of peace: “Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further to why there is no peace.”
Similarly vis-à-vis UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s repeated broadsides against the world body, which she has accused of being hopelessly anti-Israel.
Most significantly was the president’s recognition last month of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which won nearly wall-to-wall support from Israel’s Jewish political echelon, a point that gained additional volume during Pence’s stop in Amman, Jordan, where he rebuffed King Abdallah II’s contention that the US declaration stood to destabilise the Middle East. “We have agreed to disagree on that,” Pence said.
All of which sets a stage for a visit that promises to be a virtual love-fest between the VP and the ruling Likud Party. Notably, Pence will not be meeting with Palestinian Authority officials (or, for that matter, with Israeli Arab leaders, who have announced they will boycott the visit). He is also not scheduled to meet with leaders of the parliamentary opposition.