Under Trump, relations between the Palestinian leadership and Washington have soured – and Pence’s trip is expected to confirm the enmity.
Trump has said he wants to revitalize long-stalled peace talks in pursuit of what he has described as the “ultimate deal.” Yet when Pence touches down in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, the US’s role as mediator in the conflict may be over for good.
It’s not the trip to the Holy Land that Mike Pence might have imagined. For a start, the US vice-president — an evangelical Christian — is no longer welcome in Jesus’s birthplace of Bethlehem.
Donald Trump doomed Pence’s chances of a visit to the West Bank when he reversed decades of US policy last month by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This broke a longstanding international consensus that the issue would be negotiated in peace talks with the Palestinians, who also claim parts of the city.
While Trump did not rule out a future division of Jerusalem, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, swiftly rescinded Pence’s invitation to meet him and visit Bethlehem, while senior Christian clerics in Egypt — where Pence arrives on Saturday at the start of his four-day trip — also cancelled planned events.
Since then, relations between the Palestinian leadership and Washington further soured this week after the US administration froze $65m in aid money for the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees. The cut has placed UNRWA in the most severe funding crisis of its seven-decade history.
Palestinian leaders say that the US can no longer act as an honest peace broker; last weekend, Abbas denounced Trump’s actions as the “slap of the century.”