US Vice President Mike Pence visited Jerusalem's Western Wall on Tuesday while Palestinians held a general strike after denouncing his fervently pro-Israel speech the previous day as "messianic".
The devout Christian's speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday laden with biblical references was praised by Israelis as perhaps the best they could ever hope for from a US administration, but Palestinians saw it as confirming some of their worst fears.
Pence proudly reaffirmed US President Donald Trump's December 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledged to move the embassy to the disputed city by the end of 2019.
The vice president said "the friendship between our peoples has never been deeper. And I am here to convey a simple message from the heart of the American people: America stands with Israel."
On Tuesday, as he wrapped up his trip, Pence, who was boycotted by the Palestinians, visited one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Western Wall.
The site lies in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the sector the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, and many Israelis are likely to interpret it as Pence further backing their claim over the entire city.
"Very inspiring," Pence said after the visit during which he was not accompanied by Israeli government officials.
Pence followed in the footsteps of Trump, who became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in May.
In December, a US senior administration official said "we cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not part of Israel."
"But as the president said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement."
Pence also toured Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and met President Reuven Rivlin.
He said the White House believes the Jerusalem declaration "will set the table for the opportunity to move forward in meaningful negotiations to achieve a lasting peace and end the decades-long conflict".
'Gift to extremists'
The Palestinians face a dilemma over how to deal with what they see as a blatantly biased US administration as they seek to salvage hope of a two-state solution.
A top Palestinian official called Pence's parliament speech "messianic" and a "gift to extremists", reiterating the view that the Trump White House is incapable of being an even-handed mediator in peace talks.
Pence has issued no criticism of Israel's half-century occupation of the West Bank during his visit.
Around a dozen Arab Israeli lawmakers were expelled from the chamber as Pence began his speech after they shouted in protest.
On Tuesday, a general strike was observed in the Palestinian territories, but there were expressions of resignation among some.
"It's useless, the strike. Nothing will happen," Adel Humran, a Palestinian against the strike, said in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
US Vice President Mike Pence (3rd-L) signs the guestbook at Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem
"Only the shops will be closed. The people won't benefit from it at all."
A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, however, said the strike was a "message of rejection of the visit and the American position".
"Jerusalem is a red line we cannot compromise on," said Nabil Abu Rudeina.
A few hundred Palestinians also protested near an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank, throwing stones at soldiers who occasionally fired back with tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets.
The Palestinian leadership has sought to look elsewhere for backing, and Abbas met European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
The 82-year-old urged them to recognise a Palestinian state, but such a move was not forthcoming from the bloc as a whole.
Abbas said he was committed to negotiations, but he has sought an internationally-led process.
Netanyahu, bolstered by the unstinting support of the Trump administration, says there is no substitute for US leadership.
He has warmly welcomed Pence, calling him a "dear friend" and lauding Trump's Jerusalem declaration.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Drone blast hits Iraq airport in new tactic against US troops
Suez megaship owner haggles over $900m release demand
Iran's Zarif warns US against sabotage, sanctions
Oman reports 1480 new coronavirus cases, 13 deaths in past 24 hours
Natanz nuclear site hit by terrorism, says Iran
Iran orders 10-day shutdown amid 4th wave of Covid-19
Tunisian president holds talks with Sisi in Cairo
Egyptologists uncover ‘lost golden city’ buried under the sands