Vice President Mike Pence has delayed his upcoming trip to Israel by a few days amid a deadlock in the Trump administration's Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, though Pence's office said the delay is so he can stay in Washington to help pass tax reform legislation.
Spokespeople for the Knesset, the name for Israel's Parliament, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and Pence's office confirmed to CNN and Haaretz that the vice president's visit will be postponed until next week.
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Pence, who was originally scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday, will now leave Washington on Tuesday, first stopping in Egypt for a brief visit before arriving in Israel for a multi-day trip. His speech before the Knesset, initially slated for Monday, will now be held on Thursday.
The vice president is expected to land in Israel on Wednesday evening if a preliminary itinerary is approved, according to Haaretz.
According to a preliminary itinerary which has not been given final approval, Pence will land in Israel Wednesday evening. Pence is slated to deliver his Knesset speech following a welcoming ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office on Thursday. Friday's tentative schedule includes visit to the President's Residence and to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. Pence is also expected to visit the Western Wall, in all probability on Wednesday.
The vice president, an outspoken Christian, will visit in the days before Christmas. However, no church visits are on Pence's tentative schedule. The city of Bethlehem has already announced it will not accept a Pence visit.
Sources who recently spoke to U.S. officials in the region said delays are occurring because the Trump administration's Mideast peace initiative is "stuck" over the ongoing Jerusalem crisis. Israeli media reports that Pence's delay, however, is due to pressing tax reform issues in U.S. Congress.
Pence's office also said the delay is because Pence will help with tax reform efforts early next week.
"We are so close to passing pro-growth, pro-jobs, tax reform," Pence's spokeswoman said. She added that "the vice president will stay to preside over the vote," before traveling to Israel and Egypt and holding meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with whom Pence "looks forward to having constructive conversations" about the Middle East's future.
Pence holds the tie-breaking vote in the Senate in the event of an even split on a tax reform bill.
The White House said the delay is not related to the Palestinians' latest calls to disqualify the U.S. as a mediator in the Israel-Palestinian conflict following President Donald Trump's announcement last week recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump's decision angered Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as their capital, though the president said the boundaries and final status of Jerusalem are subject to negotiations between the two parties.
"The president remains as committed to peace as ever," a White House official told Haaretz. "We anticipated reactions like this and we will remain hard at work putting together our plan and look forward to unveiling it when it is ready and the time is right."
A Palestinian Authority official said that "they are no longer coordinating with them [the U.S.] on this visit," noting that they were unaware of the delay.
Pence has been rebuffed by the Palestinians after Trump's announcement on Jerusalem. He was initially scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit, but it now appears the meeting is off the table.
"There will be no meeting with the vice president of America in Palestine," Abbas' diplomatic adviser, Majdi al-Khaldi, said three days ago. "The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision."
A senior White House official said on Wednesday that Abbas' comments on the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital is the kind of rhetoric "that has prevented peace for decades."
Palestinian officials have recently been pressuring local church leaders not to welcome Pence. They also told the church leaders that they should take the same stance as the Egyptian Coptic Christian church, whose pope said that he refused to meet with the vice president due to the Jerusalem announcement, Haaretz reported.
Residents of the West Bank city took to the streets in the days following Trump's declaration in protests that escalated into violent altercations, with tourism in the Christian-majority city taking a hit just a few weeks before Christmas.
Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman told Haaretz Thursday that according to the latest information, Pence is not going to visit his city and there are no plans whatsoever to welcome him.