(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. should retain its dominant role as mediator of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rebuffing Palestinian appeals to the European Union to take the reins.
“The United States has played a historic role in this region to pursue and promote peace, and I think the United States should continue to play a preeminent role,” Pence said Tuesday in an interview in Jerusalem. “But it’s going to require the Palestinians to return to the table.”
Palestinians say President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- a theme Pence invoked multiple times during his visit -- disqualifies the U.S. as a peace broker. As Pence was telling a delighted Israeli parliament Monday that the U.S. will transfer its embassy to Jerusalem next year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Brussels urging the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state and emerge as an alternative sponsor of Middle East diplomacy.
The Palestinians seek the eastern part of Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, as capital of a future state, and see Trump’s declaration as proof of Washington’s bias. They have cut off contact with U.S. officials and refused to receive Pence during his trip to the region.
Israel is wary of an EU-led peace initiative, seeing Europe as biased toward the Palestinians.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held out the idea Monday of joint U.S.-European sponsorship of the diplomatic process, telling reporters that “there is a space for a common effort, and I believe this could be done in the coming months.”
Pence said the ball was in the Palestinians’ court, not the Europeans’.
“For us, it’s less about what European partners think than about what the Palestinians think,” he said. “The Palestinians have to come back to the table.”
The latest round of U.S.-led peace talks broke down in 2014. Trump, in pursuit of “the deal of the century,” has sent envoys to the region multiple times in an effort to find a new approach to negotiations that over the course of 25 years have failed to resolve the decades-old conflict.
On Monday, Pence echoed Trump’s contention that the Jerusalem recognition would move talks ahead by squarely facing facts. So far, it has sparked protests across the Muslim world and drawn a diplomatic rebuke in the United Nations General Assembly, and highlighted the impasse in peace efforts.
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