JERUSALEM – Seconds after Vice President Pence began speaking before the Israeli parliament earlier this week, a small group of Israeli Arab representatives protested against President Trump's recent decision to formally recognize this city as the capital of Israel. 19659002] The day before, in Jordan, Pence sat down to have lunch with King Abdullah II and was explained why the Jerusalem decision was the wrong one and how the United States now needs to "rebuild the confidence and confidence" of the Arab nations. 19659002] Both times, the vice president listened stoically, but did not move in his firm defense of the decision.
Pence traveled through the Middle East this week, visiting three nations for four days, made it clear that the administration is unfazed by criticism from foreign leaders about the Jerusalem decision, minimizing the tensions it has caused in the region .
Pence said he is confident that a single issue will not condemn relations with most allies, and believes that Trump's decision to take the Jerusalem issue "off the table" could accelerate a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, an idea that others in the region say is separate from reality.
At the end of the trip, Pence's welcome to Jerusalem with trumpets and standing ovations seemed like a victory tour.
Parts of Jerusalem were decorated with Israeli and American flags and billboards proclaiming: "Welcome Vice President Pence, you are a true friend of Zion!" Israeli President Reuven Rivlin fondly called him "a mensch" and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him "a true friend".
Pence, an evangelical Catholic who studied Jerusalem extensively, became the first vice president to address the Knesset, as parliament is called, and had a private visit to the sacred Wailing Wall, where he left a note and prayed. He called President Trump home at least twice a day.
"The American people value our relationship with the state of Israel," Pence said in an interview with NBC on Tuesday, his last day in Jerusalem. "We support Israel for its security and prosperity, but at the same time … we are committed to peace."
Pence left Washington on Friday night and was in the Atlantic Ocean when lawmakers failed to reach a budget agreement and the federal government closed.
Early Saturday morning, Air Force Two landed to refuel at the Irish airport of Shannon, where dozens of young Air Force members heading to Kuwait were punished due to a maintenance problem. The vice president – dressed in a navy blue jacket with a vice-presidential seal the size of a saucer – ventured to the terminal to shake hands, pose for photos and, while shooting a CNN camera, urge them to stay focused on their mission military despite the closure.
He then launched into a partisan attack, something that US leaders have long abstained from while on foreign soil or in the company of troops.
"The Democrats in the Senate, with some exceptions on both sides, choose to put politics ahead of our national defense," Pence told reporters, standing in front of the terminal's food court restrooms while his wife stopped trying to lock him back on the plane. "And that is simply unacceptable." It's disappointing. "
Pence's brief visit to the troops angered some Irishmen, since the country is neutral territory and anti-war activists have questioned why the Irish government allows US military aircraft to arrest Shannon.
"It was also worrisome because it was being used at a divisive moment in Irish politics and that messages sent by political figures were used as a source of division during the closure of US policy," Alice Mary Higgins, an independent senator , said in Seanad Éireann of Ireland this week.
The Senate leader, Jerry Buttimer, responded saying that although he does not agree with Pence, he doubted that the vice president "was deliberately provocative."
The deputy director of communications from Pence, Jarrod Agen, responded on Wednesday saying: "I do not believe that the words of any foreign politician on Earth prevent Vice President Pence shaking hands with US troops when he sees them, no matter what country he is in. "
Later in the trip, Pence traveled to an air base near the Syrian border to meet the troops who are fighting against the Islamic State and to repeat their attacks against the Democrats. And when the closing ended on Monday, Pence was preparing to have dinner with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and told American and Israeli journalists what he thought.
"The closure of Schumer failed," Pence proclaimed, standing in Netanyahu's garden while referring to Senate minority leader Charles E. Schumer. "Now that the government is reopening, Congress can go back to work to advance the president's agenda … And it is, Mr. Prime Minister, an agenda that is making the United States big again"
] After leaving Ireland, Pence's first stop in the Middle East was in Cairo, where he met for approximately four hours with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whom he repeatedly called "friend".
"The ties between Egypt and the United States have never been stronger," Pence said as the two sat side by side. "We are united."
Sissi took power in a military coup in 2013 and has overseen the mass arrests of his political rivals, protesters and journalists. At that time, then-President Barack Obama penalized Egypt, saying that the United States must be "very careful to be seen as an assistant and instigator of actions that we believe go against our values and ideals." But the United States needed help from Egypt in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and Obama finally launched the aid and military equipment he had been containing.
Publicly, Sissi and Pence focused on the threat of terrorism. Privately, Pence later told reporters that they discussed the Jerusalem decision, which Sissi opposes, and a new Egyptian law that in effect prohibits non-governmental organizations working on human rights, to which Pence is opposed.
Pence also asked Sissi to release two Americans who were imprisoned in 2013: Mustafa Kassem and Ahmed Etiwy. Kassem, a 50-year-old Egyptian from New York, was arrested when he demanded to be let through a police barrier to get to his car while running errands, according to his family. Etiwy, a 20-year-old college student who is also from New York, came too close to a protest while helping his grandfather get to a bus stop, his family said.
"I told him that we would like to see those American citizens restored to their families and restored in our country," Pence told reporters, saying Sissi assured him that he would give "very serious attention to their cases." Pence also noted that both detainees "were arrested earlier when President Al-Sissi took office."
Several other Americans remain incarcerated in Egypt, and Pence said he "raised the broader problem" with Sissi. Last spring, the Trump administration quietly negotiated the release of Aya Hijazi, a 30-year-old American woman who ran a charity in Cairo that rehabilitated street children. His release followed Sissi's visit to Washington, where Trump greeted him warmly and posed for photos in the Oval Office.
Just before flying to Jordan, a reporter asked Pence if she confronted Sissi with her dealings with the press and her alleged human rights violations, including the persecution of lesbians and homosexuals.
"President al-Sissi told me … that his dedication is for all the people of Egypt, and he has the aspiration to continue moving this country towards greater respect for the rich diversity of all its people," he said. Pence. "And we encourage that."
The next day, Pence was sitting in a luxurious Sunday lunch with King Abdullah in his royal palace in Amman. While the demonstrators gathered in front of the US Embassy. UU., Abdullah delivered a frank criticism of the Jerusalem decision, while the vice president listened stoically.
"For us, Jerusalem is key for Muslims and Christians as it is for Jews," Abdullah said. "It is key to peace in the region."
Pence then recited his usual refutation: despite the "historic decision," he said the United States will continue to respect Jordan's role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem and that the final boundaries in Jerusalem are "subject to negotiation" . He added that the United States continues to want a two-state solution, as long as "the parties agree" and wants the peace process to restart.
White House officials have been increasingly frustrated because the media coverage of the decision has not paid enough attention to those details. On Pence's last day in Jerusalem, his staff arranged for reporters to talk to a senior White House official who is involved in drafting a peace plan, on the condition that the official is not identified. The conversation focused on the work led by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his former real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who was in Jerusalem during the vice president's visit.
The senior official said that the Greenblatt and Kushner's plan will likely be launched this year. Pence said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday that the timing "now depends on when the Palestinians will return to the table."
Kushner and Greenblatt have not spoken to Palestinian leaders since Dec. 6 in Jerusalem announcement, the official said. Pence met no Palestinian leaders during his trip, and White House officials said they did not go to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to reschedule a canceled meeting.
"They know my phone number, and they know I'm always available," the official told reporters. "So I have not talked to them or approached them."
Earlier this month, Abbas hurled insults at the Trump administration in a two-hour speech and said the United States could no longer be a just mediator. Trump responded by drastically reducing US aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Kushner and Greenblatt are in communication with Palestinians who are not government officials, the official said.
"There are so many Palestinians who are arriving … Everyone wants to continue talking, but they are afraid to speak," the official said. "They are under a lot of pressure not to talk." It does not bode well for what we are trying to create if there is no freedom of expression among the Palestinians, so that worries me a lot. And we are trying to find a way to deal with it "