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Pence’s trip to the Middle East continues as the government closes

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence makes his fourth visit to Israel, returning to a region he has visited "a million times" in his heart.

An evangelical Christian with strong ties to the Holy Land, Pence this time presents two key political decisions in his bags that have long been his top priorities: to designate Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to restrict aid to the Palestinians .

Pence left as scheduled, the legislators sought to avoid a closure of the federal government at midnight. Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence, said the trip was "integral to US diplomatic and national security objectives" and will continue as scheduled. Pence would depart on Friday night, and Air Force Two was expected to land in Ireland for a refueling stop on Saturday morning on the way to Cairo.

Since its days in Congress a decade ago, Pence has played a role in changing US policy. UU related to the capital and the establishment of limits to the financing of Palestinian causes criticized by Israel.

Traveling to Israel just as the Palestinians have condemned the recent decisions of the government of President Donald Trump, Pence will arrive in the region as a longtime staunch supporter of Israel, who has questioned the notion that the United States serve as "honest intermediaries" in the stalled peace process.

"The United States definitely wants to be honest, but we do not want to be intermediaries," Pence once told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010. "An agent does not take sides, an intermediary negotiates between equal parts."

The vice president will hold four days of meetings in Egypt, Jordan and Israel during his visit, the first in the region by a senior administration official since Trump announced plans in December to designate Jerusalem as Israel's capital and begin the process of moving the US embassy United from Tel Aviv, infuriating Palestinian leaders.

Your trip will also follow Tuesday's announcement that the United States is withholding $ 65 million from a planned funding share of $ 125 million. Agency, which provides medical care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Both decisions have come because Trump has expressed frustration at the lack of progress in restarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who withdrew plans to meet with Pence during his visit to the Middle East.

senior White House officials said the security issues, the fight against terrorism and the efforts to push back Iran would figure prominently during Pence's trip, which ends on Tuesday. But the vice president is also expected to face questions about Israel's future.

At the embassy, ​​Pence played a constant role in driving change in US policy. UU The decision overturned past US views that the status of Jerusalem should be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who are calling for East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Pence wanted the Trump administration to convey "a clear policy" on Jerusalem after the president asked him last summer to visit the Middle East, White House officials said.

Pence discussed the matter with Jewish and evangelical leaders in the months leading up to the decision and advocated the plan within the administration. But he pointed out to the religious leaders at the end of last year that the decision was only of the president and would fulfill a commitment of the 2016 campaign.

Pence has long been aligned with Israel.

In Congress, he lobbied to limit US aid to the Palestinian Authority during the presidency of George W. Bush, warning that funds could be redirected to groups such as the Hamas militant movement, which controls Gaza.

He was a strong supporter of Israel's security fence and co-sponsored the Embassy of Jerusalem and Recognition of the Law in 2011 to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. The members of the Chamber of Veterans remember the role of Pence as an unconditional ally of the Israeli causes and their firm support to move the embassy to Jerusalem when few spoke on the subject.

As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a bill that requires the state any business that participated in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement – a movement of international base boycott against Israel.

Kenneth Weinstein, CEO of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, said he has been "central to his political life from the absolute beginning, from the first time he ran for Congress: it's central to who he is , in what he believes "

Pence traveled to Israel for the first time as an Indiana congressman in January 2004, joining a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis. He placed a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and visited the Wailing Wall, both are on Pence's itinerary next week, and had a private meeting with the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Doug Rose, a philanthropist in Indianapolis, flew with Pence on his trip to Israel in 2004 and recalled that he was deeply affected by the experience. "How could they not move him?" Rose said about her visits to the site.

Pence told the Indiana Jewish Post and Opinion after his trip in 2004 that he was often asked if he had been in Israel before, "and my answer was:" Only in my dreams. "I was raised as an evangelical Christian and I tried to read the Bible every day, so in my mind and in my heart I've been there a million times. "

Trump's decision on Jerusalem has attracted protests from Middle East leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas withdrew from a planned meeting with Pence in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem. Administration officials said Pence is not expected to meet with Palestinian leaders during the trip.

Pence remains popular with evangelical voters in the US, a large and influential constituency that helped propel Trump to victory in last year's election. American evangelicals, especially the previous generation, have a great affinity for Israel, attracted both by spiritual motives and by a genuine love for the modern country and the Jewish people.

"From our first meeting, I knew that this was a man deeply committed to Israel," said the Rev. John Hagee, founder and president of Christians United for Israel, whose organization helped pay part of Pence's trip to Israel with family members in 2014.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Community of Christians and Jews, a charity that raises tens of millions of dollars for Israeli causes of American evangelicals, said the next visit de Pence should go well with the evangelicals and help strengthen their support for the Trump administration.

"It is an extension of evangelism and evangelical sentiments for Israel and its history," Eckstein said. "Trump does not have that story, Pence has that history of being pro-Israel."


Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to say that this is Pence's fourth trip to Israel. A previous version of this story described the trip to Israel as the fifth of Pence, based on the information provided by the administration.

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