Pence arrives in Israel
January 21, 2018 | 10:12 PM
by Reuters
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen wave upon their arrival at Ben Gurion international Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel January 21, 2018. Photo - Reuters

Occupied Jerusalem: US Vice President Mike Pence began a visit to Israel on Sunday after being praised as a "great friend" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and shunned by the Palestinians over US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It is the highest-level US visit to the region since President Donald Trump made his declaration on December 6 and promised to begin the process of moving the American embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the Palestinians boycotting Pence, the visit provides little obvious opportunity to build bridges towards peace.

But it gave Pence, a conservative Christian, and Netanyahu, a right-winger who has hailed US evangelicals for their support of Israel, an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the visit and their own warm relationship for a community that serves as a power base for Trump and his vice president.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling Trump's declaration a "slap in the face', has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel.

Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.

Pence, who flew into Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport from Jordan on a U.S. military plane after visiting U.S. troops on the Syrian border, was met by Israel's tourism minister, Yariv Levin.

Pence, who travelled to the Middle East despite a U.S. government shutdown, made no statement on arrival in Israel.

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