Several Palestinian protesters burned a photo of US Vice President Mike Pence Sunday night at a small demonstration in the West Bank city of Bethlehem against his arrival in Israel earlier in the day.
The protesters, who appeared to number a mere dozen people, gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in a largely symbolic show of anger at the Evangelical Christian’s two-day trip to Israel. The visit, part of a wider tour of Middle Eastern countries, comes amid simmering Palestinian anger at US President Donald Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Holding sings reading “Pence you are desecrating our land” and “Pence go home,” the protesters at one point burned a large photo of the vice president, cheering and waving Palestinian flags as it burned on the ground.
Pence and his wife Karen arrived at Ben Gurion airport Tuesday afternoon. His trip had been scheduled to include a visit to Bethlehem, but the Palestinian Authority is boycotting his visit, so the West Bank itinerary was canceled.
Initially scheduled for December before being postponed, Pence’s visit to Israel is the final leg of a trip that included stops in Egypt and Jordan as well as a visit earlier in the day to a US military facility near the Syrian border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pence to Israel in a Facebook post, and later at an event for foreign diplomats, hailing the vice president as a “great friend of Israel.”
Netanyahu also stressed that “there is no alternative” to the United States as a peacebroker, and that anyone who rejects the US as a peacebroker “does not want peace.” This was a reference to the Palestinian Authority’s declared refusal to have any dealings with the Trump administration’s peace team since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration on December 6.
“I have a message for [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas: There is no alternative to American leadership in the diplomatic process. Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans on peace does not want peace,” he said.
ברוך הבא, ידידי סגן הנשיא מייק פנס!
Welcomed by Netanyahu and Israeli leaders across most of the political spectrum, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem infuriated the Palestinians, who seek the Israeli-annexed eastern sectors of the city as a future capital. They accused the US of siding with Israel, and Abbas said the move disqualified Washington from acting as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
After Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, Abbas said he would not meet with administration officials and called off a meeting with Pence that had been scheduled for mid-December.
Last week, the Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PCC) — the second-highest decision-making body for Palestinians — ratified that the US had “lost its eligibility to function as a mediator and sponsor of the peace process” until it reverses the Jerusalem decision.
In a new expression of that snub, Abbas overlapped with Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening until midday Sunday, when the Palestinian leader flew to Brussels for a meeting with European Union foreign ministers Monday. There, Abbas is expected to urge EU member states to recognize a state of Palestine in the pre-1967 lines, and to step up their involvement in mediation.