U.S. VP Pence To Israel, PA Prez Abbas To Brussels
The White House has confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Middle East later this month for consultations in Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Pence is set to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on January 20 and with Jordanian King Abdullah II on January 21; this, before spending two days in Israel. The trip comes amid heightened regional tensions over President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, an initiative reportedly strongly supported by Pence. The Palestinian Authority, in particular, reacted with fury to the announcement, with President Mahmoud Abbas effectively disqualifying Washington from its longstanding role as mediator of the peace process. The PA chief also directed officials to boycott their American counterparts and it appears that this too will apply to the U.S. vice president. In this respect, Abbas is expected travel on January 22 to Brussels—thus precluding the possibility of hosting Pence in Ramallah—where he will attempt to curry favor from Western European countries which uniformly opposed President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. While jump-starting peace negotiations will be on Pence’s agenda, due to prevailing circumstances his meetings with Israeli leaders will focus primarily on Iran, counter-terrorism and U.S. efforts to protect religious minorities in the region. The American VP is also scheduled to address the Israeli parliament and visit the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, a move that could spark further controversy due to its location in east Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.