Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Israel next week to reaffirm President Donald Trump's declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, according to White House sources who said Pence will strongly support the new recognition despite violence in the region and diplomatic protests by regional officials.
Pence's office had extended an invitation to meet with Palestinian officials while in the region, but the Palestinian Authority rejected the offer, according to the White House. The vice president also extended meeting invitations to Egypt's Coptic Christian Pope and Grand Imam, but both were turned down, according to administration officials.
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Pence is remaining defiant in the face of ongoing protests and diplomatic fallout following Trump's declaration, and will speak in front of Israel's Knesset, or parliament, where he will "strongly reiterate his commitment to Israel and support the acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel capital," according to one senior White House official briefed on the matter.
Pence, on his first trip to the Middle East since taking office, will seek to bolster the administration's new policy and reiterate its commitment to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians amid violent protests across the region in response to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem.
Pence will be the first U.S. official to address Israel's parliament since Trump directed the State Department to begin moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Pence "will speak at the Knesset early next week as one of the first stops on his week long middle east trip," said one White House official. "Expect him to strongly reiterate his commitment to Israel and support and acknowledgment of Jerusalem as its capital."
The administration maintains that, despite objections from Arab leaders, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will not impede the peace process. Officials have maintained that American policy will not be held hostage by threats of regional violence.
Senior White House officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon said the rejections of Pence's offers to meet show a lack of commitment to renewing the peace process and pushing forward with regional objectives.
"While most of the world community is criticizing the administration's decision, it's the administration that was willing to meet and talk with the Palestinians—they were the ones unwilling to have constructive dialogue," said one senior official briefed on the situation.
Pence remains optimistic about the trip despite some tension.
After Palestinian leaders rejected Pence's offer to meet while he is in the region, the vice president's office issued a scathing response blaming Palestinian leaders for walking away from the bargaining table at a key juncture.
"The president has asked Vice President Pence to go to the region to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations," Alyssa Farah, Pence's press secretary, said over the weekend.
"It's unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan," Farah said.
Pence will still hold meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Other administration insiders briefed on Pence's trip said the White House has been making, and will continue to make, good faith outreach efforts to Palestinian and Arab leaders in pursuit of the peace process.
"Everyone in the Middle East knows the Trump administration is serious about advancing a realistic peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians," said one veteran Middle East expert who regularly advises Congress and the Trump administration on Israeli-Palestinian peace process issues.
"The reason they know it is because they're all involved in it. The president's team has been carefully but systematically moving forward a regional approach, and America's allies there have all bought in," the source said. "The only people pretending there's a genuine crisis are the Palestinians and Trump's critics back here in D.C."