Mike Pence Postpones Israel Visit Amid Crisis in Trump's Peace Initiative

Senior White House official: 'The president remains as committed to peace as ever'

Palestinians walk on a poster bearing images of U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the al-Quds Open University in the West Bank village of Dura, December 13, 2017.
Hazem Bader / AFP

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is delaying his upcoming visit to Israel amid a current crisis in the Trump administration's Mideast peace initiative. The delay was first reported Thursday by Walla News.

A Knesset spokesperson confirmed that Pence's speech, slated for Monday, was postponed. A Foreign Ministry official noted that the visit could potentially commence on Wednesday.

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The Vice President's office said that the delay is because Pence will stay in Washington to help pass President Trump's tax reform legislation. "We are so close to passing pro-growth, pro-jobs, tax reform," said his spokeswoman. She added that "the Vice President will stay to preside over the vote," before traveling to Israel and Egypt and going forward with his meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian President Sissi, with whom Pence "looks forward to having constructive conversations" about the region's future.

The White House also emphasized that the delay is not related to the Palestinians' latest calls to disqualify the U.S. as a mediator. "The President remains as committed to peace as ever," a White House official said. "We anticipated reactions like this and we will remain hard at work putting together our plan and look forward to unveiling it when it is ready and the time is right."

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According to an itinerary, Pence will land in Israel Wednesday evening and visit the Western Wall that night. On Thursday, Pence is slated to have a Bilateral meeting with Netanyahu, deliver formal remarks to Knesset and dine at the Prime Minister's residence. Friday's schedule includes a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.

The vice president, an outspoken Christian, will visit in the days before Christmas. However, no church visits are on Pence's tentative schedule. The city of Bethlehem has already announced it will not accept a Pence visit.

Sources who recently spoke to U.S. officials in the region said delays are occurring because the Trump administration's Mideast peace initiative is, as sources claimed, "stuck" over the ongoing Jerusalem crisis.

"This is a fabricated, inaccurate distortion from a spoiler as he never said this," a senior White House official said. "We have said what we have said all along – the President remains as committed to peace as ever and we are not surprised by reactions which have the potential to result in a temporary cooling off period. In the meantime, we will remain hard at work putting together our plan, which will benefit the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."

Israeli media reports that Pence's delay, however, is due to pressing tax reform issues in U.S. Congress. 

A Palestinian Authority official said they were unaware of delay, noting that "we are no longer coordinating with them on this visit."

Pence is being rebuffed as a result of the Palestinians' rage over Trump's announcement last week recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, and the meeting initially scheduled to be held between Pence and Palestinian President Abbas appears to be off the table.

"There will be no meeting with the vice president of America in Palestine," Abbas' diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khaldi said three days ago, adding that: "The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision."

Abbas's recent comments on the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital is the kind of rhetoric "that has prevented peace for decades," a senior White House official said Wednesday.

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Palestinian officials have pressured local church leaders not to welcome Pence, encouraging them to take the same stance as the Egyptian Coptic Christian church whose pope announced his refusal to meet with the U.S. vice president due to the Jerusalem decision.

Residents of the West Bank city took to the streets in the days following Trump's declaration in protests that escalated into violent altercations, with tourism in the Christian-majority city taking a hit just a few weeks before Christmas.

Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman told Haaretz Thursday that according to the latest information, Pence is not going to visit his city and there are no plans whatsoever to welcome him.