WASHINGTON - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's visit to the Middle East next week is likely to focus on the Trump administration's efforts to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and will include a speech at the Knesset and tour of the ancient pyramids in Egypt, according to details released Sunday by the White House.
The visit comes amid a crisis facing the White House in its ties to the Palestinian Authority and other Arab countries over its decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
According to a schedule of the visit first published on Axios, Pence will arrive to Tel Aviv on Sunday. During his time in Israel, he will give a speech at the Knesset and light a menorah at the Western Wall. His appearance at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City could increase already heightened tensions around the city's status. When President Trump visited Israel in May, he prayed at the Wall but did so without company by Israeli officials to avoid the thorny issue of sovereignty in East Jerusalem.
Continuing to Egypt after two days in Israel, Pence will tour the ancient pyramids outside of Cairo in addition to meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.
The Coptic Pope of Egypt, however, announced he will refuse to meet with Pence due to the American administration's controversial decision on Jerusalem. This announcement could hurt White House attempts to frame Pence's visit as part of an effort to support Christian communities in the Middle East.
Pence was scheduled to visit Bethlehem and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but the Palestinian Authority recently retorted he is "not welcome" in Palestine in light of Trump's speech on Jerusalem. Pence, an evangelical Christian, played a leading role in encouraging Trump's speech on Jerusalem, even standing behind Trump as he spoke.
On Sunday, the White House attacked the Palestinian Authority for cancelling Abbas' meeting with Pence.
During his visit, Pence will try to emphasize the Trump administration's support for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and Trump's personal commitment to achieve a peace deal despite the recent escalation of conflict over Jerusalem. This is expected to be a major theme of Pence's speech before the Knesset, which is expected to take place on Monday.
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