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Pence Middle East trip to go ahead

Vice President Mike Pence. (Reuters)
WASHINGTON: US Vice President Mike Pence will visit Egypt and Israel next week, despite controversy and meeting cancelations as a result of the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Aides said Pence is to travel to Cairo and Jerusalem from Tuesday. The vice president had been scheduled to leave Saturday for Israel. White House officials said Pence now plans to leave for Egypt on Tuesday so he can preside over the Senate during a vote on the tax package.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly describe scheduling details.
They said Pence’s trip will be abbreviated after Palestinian officials and leading Muslim and Christian clerics in Egypt refused to meet with him during his trip to the region.
President Donald Trump’s administration invited almost universal condemnation earlier this month when it officially recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, effectively ignoring Palestinian claims on the city.
The city’s status had been seen as a central element of any eventual peace deal.
Palestinian, Coptic and other leaders have said Pence is not welcome and have publicly rebuffed requests for a meeting.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a planned sit-down with Pence in Ramallah and warned that the US no longer had a role to play in the peace process.
Any plans that Pence may have had to make the pilgrimage to Bethlehem also appear to have been thwarted.
The US vice president will, however, address the Knesset and meet the Egyptian and Israeli leaders Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Benjamin Netanyahu during the five-day trip.
Pence has been forced to adjust his schedule in the Middle East amid protests from leaders over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Aides to Abbas, who has condemned Trump’s decision, said earlier this week that he would not meet with the vice president. Abbas had originally planned to host Pence — a devout Christian — in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Pence is scheduled to meet Wednesday in Cairo with El-Sisi, a close ally of Trump. Pence will arrive in Israel later Wednesday for a visit to the Western Wall. The following day, he will meet Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and later dine with Netanyahu.
White House officials said Pence will wrap up his trip to Israel on Friday with a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
The status of Jerusalem has been a central issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Trump’s announcement last week was widely perceived as siding with Israel. The decision upended decades of US foreign policy and countered an international consensus that Jerusalem’s status should be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The White House has said Trump remains committed to the goal of peace and notes he has not taken a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or resolution of its contested borders.
Trump has set an ambitious goal of brokering Mideast peace and tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to help lay the groundwork for direct negotiations. Kushner and other top Trump aides have traveled to the region to meet with Palestinians, Israelis and officials from Arab nations.
Pence’s trip is scheduled to end on Dec. 23 with a pre-Christmas visit with troops stationed at the US’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany.