On Final Day in Israel, VP Pence Visits Kosel, Yad Vashem, President Rivlin

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits the Kosel on Tuesday. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

 

Vice President Mike Pence, with a yarmulke on his head, approached the Kosel and placed a note in its cracks, Tuesday afternoon. He then held his right hand on the wall momentarily, his eyes closed, standing solemnly.

He was accompanied by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rav of the Kosel. During the visit, Pence heard a brief explanation of the importance of the Kosel to the Jewish people and the archaeological discoveries at the site.

Pence aides called it “a personal visit,” in the same manner in which President Donald Trump visited during his visit to Israel last year. But in late 2017, Trump officials said that while the ultimate borders of the holy city must be resolved through negotiations, they could not “envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel.”

He was not accompanied by any Israeli officials.

The visit to the Kosel comes amid tensions with the Palestinians, who have assailed the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel.

Earlier Tuesday, Pence reiterated to Israeli leaders that the Trump administration plans to pull out of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal unless the pact is amended.

On Tuesday morning, Pence met with President Reuven Rivlin and vowed the United States would counter the Iranian nuclear threat. He then headed to the most emotional part of his visit — a tribute to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and later a visit to the Kosel.

Rivlin praised Pence’s speech to parliament and his role in pushing for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“You are a mensch,” Rivlin told a smiling Pence.

Pence also repeated the administration’s plan to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which has been vociferously opposed by Israel, unless the pact is enforced and amended. He noted U.S. efforts to gain support from European allies to address what he described as flawed parts of the agreement, adding that President Donald Trump “has made clear” the U.S. will leave the nuclear deal if that doesn’t happen.

“We are sending a signal to our European allies that the time has come for changes in the Iran nuclear deal,” Pence said, sitting alongside Rivlin. “Punitive sanctions will be available for many years to come to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and you have our commitment to work closely with our allies around the world to achieve that.”

Abbas’ ruling Fatah party called for a general strike on Tuesday to protest Pence’s visit and Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem. The strike is meant to include shops, public transportation, banks and most of the public sector aside from schools and hospitals.

Fatah official Jamal Muheisen told the Voice of Palestine that the strike marks “the beginning of our popular peaceful struggle” against the Jerusalem move.

Pence again argued that the president’s decision would help move the peace process along.

“President Trump truly believes that the decision the United States has made to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, we believe, will set the table for the opportunity to move forward in meaningful negotiations to achieve a lasting peace,” he said.

Rivlin responded in an Arabic expression, “Inshallah,” adding that it meant “with G-d’s help.”