The delay comes as Congress prepares to vote on a sweeping tax reform bill
Palestinian and religious leaders said they would refuse to meet Pence during his visit
US Vice President Mike Pence has delayed his upcoming visit to Israel for several days, spokespeople for the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament and Foreign Ministry and Pence’s office told CNN on Thursday.
The delay comes as Congress prepares to vote on a sweeping tax reform bill, and amid an ongoing outcry over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to the holy city.
Pence’s vote could be crucial to Republican hopes of passing a major tax reform bill before the end of the year. With Republicans holding a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate – and some key Republican senators still uncommitted – Pence holds the tiebreaking vote in the event of an even split. Delaying the Jerusalem visit and keeping the vice president in Washington allows Pence to cast that vote if tax reform moves forward next week.
Pence’s office confirmed he will now leave Washington on Tuesday, stopping in Egypt for a brief visit before arriving in Israel for a multi-day visit.
His schedule includes an address to the Israeli Knesset on Thursday.
He will cap off the trip with a stop at a US base in Germany and return Saturday.
Trump’s announcement last week delighted Israeli leaders but was heavily criticized by many key US allies and Palestinian leaders who see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Pence had originally been scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday and address the Parliament, or Knesset, the following day.
But Palestinian and religious leaders said they would refuse to meet Pence during his visit.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters last week that the leadership had decided there would be “no formal communications” with US officials in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
Speaking at an emergency summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “We shall not accept any role for the United States in the peace process. They’ve proven their full bias in favor of Israel.”
The OIC called on the international community to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
On Wednesday, the custodian of the key to one of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also said he would not welcome Pence to Jerusalem’s Old City, though he added he knows of no specific plans for Pence to visit the Church.
Adeeb Joudeh al-Huseini wrote in a public letter that he would “totally refuse to officially welcome [Pence]” into the church.
“We say to Trump that it is insane that someone who doesn’t own [Jerusalem] is giving [it] to one who doesn’t deserve [it],” al-Huseini wrote. He also called on other church leaders in Jerusalem to turn Pence away.
Tensions have simmered ever since Trump’s controversial declaration last week, with many world leaders fearing it will mean the end of a two-state solution to the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Deadly protests broke out in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem following Trump’s announcement. There has also been an increase in the number of rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel.
In the latest incident, on Wednesday evening, the Israel Defense Forces said it had intercepted two rockets, and that a third landed in open territory. The Israeli army responded by targeting what it described as three military facilities in Gaza used as training and weapons storage sites by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza.