Snubbed by Abbas, US vice president to skip Palestinians on upcoming trip
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Crisis in US-PA relations

Snubbed by Abbas, US vice president to skip Palestinians on upcoming trip

Mike Pence set to address Knesset, meet Israeli PM and president, visit Yad Vashem and Western Wall -- but will steer clear of Ramallah

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 27, 2017, during the annual meeting of the National Federation of Independent Business on health care, jobs, and the economy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 27, 2017, during the annual meeting of the National Federation of Independent Business on health care, jobs, and the economy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

US Vice President Mike Pence will skip the Palestinian territories during his upcoming trip to the region, after PA officials said they wouldn’t meet him due to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israeli officials and Pence’s spokesperson confirmed.

Earlier in the day, it emerged that Pence had postponed his arrival in Israel by several days due to Congressional votes on tax reform.

The Israeli officials told The Times of Israel that Pence is set to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport from Cairo on Wednesday evening, and leave Israel en route to the US on Friday afternoon — without having set foot on Palestinian Authority territory.

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.

“We are so close to passing pro-growth pro-jobs tax reform for hardworking families,” said Pence spokesperson Alyssa Farah later on Thursday. “Yesterday the White House informed Senate Leadership that due to the historic nature of the vote in the Senate on tax cuts for millions of Americans, the VP would stay to preside over the vote.

“The Vice President will then travel to Egypt & Israel where he’ll reaffirm the United States’ commitment to its allies in the Middle East and to working cooperatively to defeat radicalism,” she said in a statement. “He looks forward to having constructive conversations with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President el-Sisi to reaffirm President Trump’s commitment to our partners in the region and to its future.”

Next Thursday morning, Pence is slated to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem office, Israeli officials said. Later that day, he will speak at the Knesset, before dining with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

On Friday, Pence is set to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and visit President Reuven Rivlin in his Jerusalem residence, before flying back home in time for Christmas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Vice President Mike Pence in Washington DC, February 16, 2017, (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

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 means his visit will no longer coincide with the Jewish holiday.

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 there 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.

Donald Trump waving to reporters, as Vice President Mike Pence looks on, after announcing that the US government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, December 6, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

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 he was “not welcome in Palestine,” and Abbas’s spokesman confirmed that the PA chief would not meet with him.

In response to the the 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.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on last week’s US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL)

In a speech Wednesday, Abbas said there would be no future US role in the peace process. Abbas said the Palestinians had been engaged with Washington in a new push to reach a peace agreement with Israel, the “deal of our times.” But “instead we got the slap of our times,” Abbas said. “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator … We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.” He suggested the UN should take over as mediator.

Arab Israeli lawmakers have 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.

Eric Cortellessa and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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