A top Egyptian religious leader has cancelled a planned meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence, following in the footsteps of Palestinian leadership.
Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb cancelled the meeting after President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Al-Azhar said Friday.
In a statement, Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Sunni institution, said Tayeb had reversed his previous decision to meet Pence, who is due to travel to Egypt and Israel in the second half of December.
Tayeb announced “his categorical rejection of a formal request from US Vice President Mike Pence to meet with him on December 20,” Al-Azhar said.
“Al-Azhar cannot sit with those who falsify history and steal the rights of people,” the statement said. “How can I sit with those who gave what they do not own to those who are undeserving?” the statement quoted Tayeb as asking.
“The US president must immediately reverse this decision.”
The US embassy had submitted an official request a week ago, “and the grand imam had agreed to this, but after the unjust and unfair American decision on Jerusalem, Al-Azhar’s grand imam announces his strong and decisive rejection of this meeting.”
Senior Palestinian officials have also said a planned meeting between Pence and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now unlikely to take place.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, said Thursday that Pence was now “unwanted in Palestine.”
Abbas’s spokesman appeared to confirm that a meeting was no longer in the cards.
“Jerusalem is more important than the US administration, and we will not give it up for a meeting,” he said.
Pence is set to visit Egypt, Israel and the West Bank later this month. When announcing the trip in October, the White House said Pence would hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas amid US efforts to relaunch peace talks. Trump spoke about the Pence visit in his speech Wednesday, with his vice president at his side, noting, “Vice President Pence will travel to the region in the coming days to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations.”
Responding to rumors the meeting could be called off, a White House aide said Pence “still plans to meet with Abbas as scheduled” and “believes it would be counterproductive for him to pull out of the meeting.”
Following Trump’s speech, in which the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the State Department to begin preparations for moving the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv, Abbas slammed the move and said the United States has ended its historic role as the key sponsor for Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
In his Wednesday address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.