Pence postpones Mideast trip, citing tax bill

Before deciding on refusing to meet him, Abbas had wanted to host devoutly Christian Pence in Bethlehem

WASHINGTON: Vice-President Mike Pence on Monday postponed his trip to Egypt and Israel until mid-January, citing the need to preside over the Senate on a sweeping tax overhaul. His decision came amid an uproar in the Middle East over the Trump administration’s decision to designate occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Pence will instead travel to the Middle East during the week of January 14 so he can be in the Senate for Tuesday’s expected tax vote.

Senior White House officials said the uncertainty of the timing of the Senate vote could have pushed back Pence’s schedule in Egypt and Israel, and the vice-president felt it was important to be in the Senate in case he was needed to break a tie vote. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans.

Pence had been expected to depart for Egypt on Tuesday night, followed by a visit to Israel and then a meeting with US troops in Germany. The vice-president’s office had originally planned to leave on Saturday night for Israel but pushed back his departure because of the pending tax bill.

The schedule shift follows President Donald Trump’s December 6 announcement recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that prompted Palestinian officials and leading Muslim and Christian clerics in Egypt to refuse to meet with Pence, forcing him to adjust his schedule.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had originally intended to meet with Pence but pulled out of the meeting after denouncing Trump’s decision. Abbas had originally planned to host Pence, a devout Christian, in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Trump’s decision countered an international consensus that occupied Jerusalem’s status should be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The vice-president had been scheduled to be in Cairo on Wednesday for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi and was expected to arrive in Israel later on Wednesday for a visit to the Western Wall.

Pence had been slated to hold meetings on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver an address to the Knesset. Pence was ending his trip to Israel with a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

But White House officials said any delay in the tax vote might have prevented the vice-president from departing Washington on time and complicated a tightly orchestrated set of meetings in Egypt and Israel.


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