A week before Vice President Mike Pence’s long-in-the-planning trip to the Middle East with the stated goal of helping persecuted Christians and boosting the American role in the Isreali-Palestinian peace process, numerous doors are being slammed in his face instead.
There is continuing anger over Trump’s unilateral decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, and Pence’s role as an architect of that decision.
Pence, who was raised as a Catholic but now is an evangelical Christian, had said the main purpose of his trip to several countries in the Middle East would be to seek an “end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities.”
While the right-wing administration of Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which applauded the Jeresulem announcement, will welcome Pence with open arms, his scheduled meetings with Palestinian leaders and other Arabs have been canceled, which is not a surprise.
What is unexpected is that Pence he is also getting the “unwelcome sign” from many Christian groups, who he claims he wants to help.
Today, the official custodian in charge of keys at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, considered one of the most sacred sites in Christianity, said he had been asked to receive Pence officially but now will make sure he isn’t even in the building if the VP comes to visit.
Legend has it that Jesus was crucified on the site of the church, a place known as the Calvary, and that it is the location of Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.
“I absolutely refuse to officially welcome the American Vice President Mr. Mike Pence at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” Adeeb Joudeh wrote in a letter to Israeli’s Channel 2 TV station, “and I will not be physically in church during the visit.”
“This is an expression,” added Joudeh, “of my condemnation of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Other Church of the Holy Sepulcher officials have tried to downplay the situation, claiming that there was never a visit by Pence scheduled, it is clear Joudeh is not the only Chrisitan who is angry.
Christians in the Middle East have strongly rebuffed Mike Pence's trip, showing the chasm in ideology and practice between the Western political Christian right and Arab Christians. https://t.co/PXqA2Mz5y2
— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) December 13, 2017
A group of Christian churches in Jerusalem had written a letter to Trump in advance of the announcement urging him not to recognize the ancient city as the capital of Isreal, according to The Hill.
After the announcement, the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church, which has faced terrible persecution in recent years – exactly what Pence said he was traveling to stop – also said he will not meet with Pence now.
The Coptic Churchman said Trump’s decision came “at an unsuitable time and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people.”
Pence is also going to be snubbed if he visits the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, as he has intended, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Anton Salman, Mayor of Bethlehem, where a majority of residents are Christians, said there are now no plans to welcome Pence.
In the wake of Trump’s announcement, with Pence standing behind him, Bethlehem was one of many cities in the region where people took to the streets to protest, which led to escalations that included violence and rioting.
There were also rockets fired into Israel by the Palestinians, most likely Hamas, which has called for a renewed war with Isreal because of the U.S. move. Isreal has struck back by bombing parts of the Palestinian-held Gaza strip, which has led to more bad feelings and a loss of lives.
This is a major blow to Bethlehem because the city is a magnet for tourists in the Christmas season but now with the violence, the city’s economy is expected to be devastated.
The Jeruselum announcement was purposely timed in advance of Pence’s visit, showing how tone-deaf Trump and Pence are to how the announcement would play in the region. Pence’s people now say he expected it, but just before Trump and Pence made the announcement, White Hosue sources said they still hoped the meetings with the Palestinian leadership would go forward.
Majdi al-Khaldi, a diplomatic adviser to Abbas, told the AFP news agency that “The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision.”
Now not only has it been canceled, but the U.S. has been condemned, and the Palestinians are saying there is no way the Americans will continue trying to broker a peace agreement.
Husam Zomlot, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian envoy to Washington, “said that the Palestinians were initially more than pleased to have Pence visit,” reports Haaretz, “and even meet with his team to help put together meetings, not just with Abbas and senior Palestinian officials, but also with Christians.”
“Knowing that he has Christian minorities and communities in the Middle East as a top priority for him,” said Zomlot, “we wanted him to hear from the original Christians – the Palestinian Christians – and we insisted on this meeting and we arranged it.”
Now not only are all of those meetings canceled, but the Palestinian leadership has actively warned other Christian groups not to meet with Pence and has called for more demonstrations against the American decision.
Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, said the Palestinians will now seek a new peace broker to replace the U.S. and will also seek a U.N. Security Council resolution denouncing Trump’s decision.
“We will seek a new mediator form our Arab brothers and the international community,” Maliki told reporters in Cairo, according to Reuters.
They are not alone. On Saturday, Arab foreign ministers called on the U.S. to abandon its decision. The Arab League, after an emergency session in Cairo, called Trump’s announcement a “dangerous violation of international law.”
A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official, according to Reuters, called Trump’s decision a “gift to radicalism.”
“Radicals and extremists will use that to fan the language of hate,” explained Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State at a security conference in Bahrain.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, said that before Trump’s announcement terrorists were losing ground but the Jerusalem announcement “extended a lifeline to terrorist groups and armed organizations.”
Trump and Pence continue to claim they will have a role in peace negotiations and even complained that the protests and anger of the Jeruselum announcement represent a lost opportunity for the factions facing off in the Middle East.
This again shows how little Trump and Pence know or understand about diplomacy, especially in the tinderbox that is the Middle East, and how unequipped they are to represent the U.S. in the region.
Pence will be toasted by Netanyahu and still has a meeting scheduled in Cairo after his visit to Isreal.
However, the damage that PenceTrumpTurmp have done with this unnecessary announcement, which has also angered many traditional American allikes like France, Germany, and the U.K., will reverberate for a long time to come, and continue to make America an outsider in the world community that it led under President Obama.
If Trump and Pence thought the Jeruselum announcement would make the world a safer place, it reveals a level of ignorance that is truly dangerous.