(CNSNews.com) – Israeli leaders hailed Vice President Mike Pence’s address in Jerusalem Monday as historic – in the words on one cabinet minister, the most important and most pro-Zionist speech ever delivered to Israel’s Knesset by a foreign leader.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat fumed, describing Pence’s words as a “messianic discourse” which underlined once again that the United States is “part of the problem rather than the solution” to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
In a sometimes emotional speech Pence, an evangelical Christian, frequently cited biblical passages – including key prophecies pointing to Israel’s modern-day restoration – as he spoke about the Jewish people’s ancient and God-given heritage in the land of Israel.
The approach was in stark contrast to recent remarks by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who declared during a PLO central council meeting this month that “Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with the Jews.”
The Palestinians and their Arab allies have repeatedly promoted resolutions at the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO disputing or downplaying Jewish historic links to Israel, especially in Hebron and Jerusalem.
Addressing the Knesset, Pence quoted Old Testament prophecy referenced by biblical Zionists who believe God restored the scattered Jews back to their ancient land with the declaration of the state of Israel 70 years ago.
“The Jewish people held fast to a promise through all the ages, written so long ago, that ‘even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens,’ from there He would gather and bring you back to the land which your fathers possessed,” he said (Deut. 30:4).
“Through a 2,000-year exile, the longest of any people, anywhere, through conquests and expulsions, inquisitions and pogroms, the Jewish people held on to this promise, and they held on to it through the longest and darkest of nights.”
Alluding to Isaiah 66:8, Pence told the lawmakers, “this April, we will mark the day when the Jewish people answered that ancient question — can a country be born in a day, can a nation be born in a moment? — as the State of Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its birth.”
“How unlikely was Israel’s birth; how more unlikely has been her survival. And how confounding, and against the odds, has been her thriving,” Pence said.
“You have turned the desert into a garden (Isaiah 51:3), scarcity into plenty, sickness into health, and you turned hope into a future,” he continued.
“Israel is like a tree that has grown deep roots in the soil of your forefathers, yet as it grows, it reaches ever closer to the heavens. And today and every day, the Jewish State of Israel, and all the Jewish people, bear witness to God’s faithfulness, as well as your own.”
“And so we will ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem,’ that ‘those who love you be secure,’ that ‘there be peace within your walls, and security in your citadels,’” Pence told the lawmakers, citing Psalm 122: 6-7.
“And we will work and strive for that brighter future where everyone who calls this ancient land their home shall sit ‘under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid’” (Micah 4:4).
Pence used the speech to reaffirm that President Trump will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem by the end of next year, and to underline Trump’s determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, noting his pledge to withdraw from the nuclear deal unless it is “fixed” by the U.S. Congress and European allies.
Israeli politicians effusively praised the address, with Science Minister Ofir Akunis in a video statement linked to his Facebook page calling it “the greatest and most important Zionist speech ever delivered by a foreign leader at the Knesset plenum.”
Akunis also said the speech marked “the zenith of U.S.-Israeli relations since 1948.” (Similarly, Pence told the Knesset that Trump “has done more to bring our two great countries closer together than any president in the past 70 years.”)
In a Twitter post, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked described Pence’s speech as “one-of-a-kind” and “historic,” and thanked the vice-president for what she called “a consummately Zionist speech, a moral speech of the first order."
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the speech “inspirational.”
“Israel values the everlasting friendship with the U.S. and your commitment to our shared values of freedom and democracy,” she tweeted.
‘A gift to extremists’
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Twitter Pence’s address showed that he “loves us with all of his heart – not as a politician, but from a deep faith and understanding of the role and mission of the Jewish state.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, hosting Pence at a dinner later Monday, called the speech “magnificent.”
“You saw people standing up again and again, applauding you, applauding the principles that guide your policy, applauding the genuine friendship that emanates from your heart,” he told the vice-president.
“It was a powerful expression of the enduring bond between our two countries and of your personal commitment to Israel, the commitment of President Trump and your entire delegation.”
PLO executive committee secretary-general Saeb Erekat responded sourly to Pence’s remarks.
“The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists and has proven that the U.S. Administration is part of the problem rather than the solution,” the Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted him as tweeting.
“His message to the rest of the world is clear: violate international law and resolutions and the U.S. will reward you.”
Abbas’ Fatah faction of the PLO called for a strike by businesses on Tuesday to protest Pence’s visit.
Israeli Arab lawmakers meanwhile boycotted the Knesset speech in response to Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said by their “shameful” stayaway action lawmakers from the four Arab-dominated parties “proved once again they are representatives of terrorist organizations in the Knesset.”