WASHINGTON - Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Israel and Egypt has been delayed until the week of January 14, a senior White House official told Haaretz on Monday, citing a planned vote on the Republicans' tax plan.
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Pence was expected to land in Israel on Wednesday in a planned visit that has been marred by the diplomatic fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The official explained that the vice president must be in the Senate for the vote on Tuesday, and that traveling to the Middle East on Wednesday would have left too little time. The administration decided to delay the visit until after the Christmas and New Year vacation period, the official said.
"[Special Middle East envoy] Jason Greenblatt is still headed to Israel as planned to continue working on the administration’s peace efforts," said the official, stressing that the delay was due to scheduling issues surrounding the vote and fears it would "run up against Shabbat and Christmas."
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected in India for a week-long visit during the middle of January, and then attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, so there is a possibility that the new date set for Pence's visit will also have to be rescheduled.
Pence’s scheduled trip to the West Bank city of Bethlehem – the birthplace of Jesus and one of the most important sites in Christianity – was called off a few days ago, as was his meeting with the leader of the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt, due to Arab anger at the Trump administration's decision change U.S. policy on the status of Jerusalem.
This is the second time Pence's visit was postponed, with his initial itinerary suggesting he would land in Israel on Monday, which was later moved to Wednesday. He was expected to visit the Western Wall on Wednesday night and on Thursday, Pence was slated to have a bilateral meeting with Netanyahu, deliver formal remarks to Knesset and dine at the Prime Minister's residence. Friday's schedule included 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, was expected to visit in the days before Christmas. However, no church visits were on Pence's tentative schedule. The city of Bethlehem has already announced it will not accept a Pence visit, as part of the Palestinian protest of Trump's policy change on Jerusalem.
Pence is being rebuffed as a result of the Palestinians' rage over Trump's announcement 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 has been off the table for more than a week.
The House of Representatives was due to vote first at around 1:30 P.M. on Tuesday, according to Republican aides, while the Senate vote is expected to follow either later on Tuesday or on Wednesday.