Pence’s visit to Israel delayed over US tax reform vote

Vice president was originally scheduled to light Hanukkah candles at Western Wall, but postponement pushes visit after Jewish holiday

US Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Muniz National Guard Air Base, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
US Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Muniz National Guard Air Base, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel has been delayed by several days due to Congressional votes on tax reform, The Times of Israel confirmed on Thursday.

The office of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and the Foreign Ministry confirmed the US vice president’s trip — slated to begin Sunday — had been postponed.

“They told us it was because of the votes on tax reform in Congress,” Edelstein’s spokesperson said.

According to the adjusted, tentative schedule, Pence will now arrive from Cairo on Wednesday evening, according to Israeli officials.

On Thursday morning, he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem office. Later that day, he will speak at the Knesset and dine at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street.

On Friday, Pence is set to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and visit President Reuven Rivlin in his Jerusalem residence.

It is currently unclear when he will visit the Western Wall, though Israeli officials expect him to go to the holy site on Wednesday evening.

Pence had been scheduled to light the Hanukkah menorah at the Western Wall, but the three-day delay would mean his visit will no longer coincide with the Jewish holiday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Indiana Governor Michael Pence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Pence’s stop in the region comes less than two weeks after US President Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, while setting in motion plans to eventually move the US embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, but has elicited rage among the Palestinians and in the wider Arab world.

The former Indiana governor was originally set to visit Bethlehem and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party, said last week that Pence was “not welcome in Palestine.” That meeting has been canceled.

In response to the the Palestinian snub, the White House accused the Palestinians of “walking away” from peace efforts.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

Arab Israeli lawmakers have also said they will boycott Pence’s speech in the Knesset, “in order to send a clear message to the US administration and the world that there are citizens here that vehemently oppose Trump’s announcement” on Jerusalem.

During his trip, Pence is expected to emphasize America’s commitment to brokering a peace deal and try to calm tensions that have erupted after Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

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