VP Pence faces difficult Middle East visit. Meetings canceled over Trump’s Jerusalem move


vice-president-elect-mike-pence-harrassedNeither the Palestinian Authority president nor the head of Egypt’s largest Christian church , nor the head of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque, Sunni Islam’s top seat of learning plan to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the Middle East later this month, in protest over the U.S. declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

The rejections emerged as the Anadolu Agency said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to work together to persuade the U.S. to change its stance on Jerusalem, and PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the United Nations Security Council should now move to “bring the U.S. to compliance.”

Protests against the U.S. move extended for a third day in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The Gaza Health Ministry said four Palestinians were killed in the past 24 hours in clashes with Israeli soldiers or by Israeli air strikes, launched in response to rocket fire on its southern towns. Late Saturday, the Red Crescent reported 231 Palestinians had been injured in clashes, according to Al-Jazeera Television.

Trump’s decision, presented as being in “the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” has been denounced across the Arab world. Members of the UN Security Council condemned the move Friday as contradicting international law and prejudging the outcome of negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the decision ”courageous” and ”just.”

Two-State Solution

Palestinians claim the eastern sector of Jerusalem, with shrines sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, as the capital of a future state. Israel’s current government sees the area as part of the nation’s eternal capital.

Jerusalem’s status must be worked out in peace negotiations with Israel, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said in Cairo, where he added that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t planning to meet Pence and stressed that the peace process needed a new mediator.

Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Church in Egypt also won’t meet Pence because the U.S. administration’s decision fails to take ”into consideration the feelings of millions of people,” the church said on its Facebook page.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Friday that the Trump administration supports a two-state solution if agreed to by both parties, and added that an Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement is within reach.

That did little to pacify Muslims. The Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip and has called for a new uprising, sent out a leaflet on Saturday urging Palestinians to continue to confront Israeli forces to protest the U.S. move. The militant Islamic Jihad in Gaza and other Palestinian factions in the West Bank issued similar calls.

Bell Ringing

The West Bank groups instructed Palestinian churches to ring their bells as a show of unity, and called for demonstrations in front of U.S. government buildings in the West Bank on Monday. Palestinians should block roads and confront Jewish settlers on Friday, they said.

In Lebanon, army chief General Joseph Aoun instructed the military to be “on alert and prepared to react to possible repercussions of the crisis.” He also said troops on the country’s southern border with Israel should be prepared “to confront any Israeli aggression or any breach of security.”

Dennis Ross, a former negotiator on Middle East peace talks who served three U.S. presidents, said Trump’s declaration would have been better delivered in the context of a deal that offered Arabs something positive. The issue is “probably the most emotional one of all those involving Israelis and Palestinians,” he told Bloomberg TV.