CAIRO — Vice President Mike Pence’s planned check out to the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, ought to have had a particular poignancy in the days ahead of Christmas.
It didn’t quite perform out that way.
When he initial floated the thought of a trip in October, Mr. Pence, an evangelical Christian, vowed to highlight the persecution of Christians at the hands of Islamic State extremists, and he scheduled meeting with a number of Christian leaders, which was certain to play properly with his conservative American base.
“Christianity now faces an exodus in the Middle East unrivaled given that the days of Moses,” he stated in a speech sprinkled with biblical references. “Help is on the way.”
But then on Dec. six, President Trump recognizedJerusalem as the capital of Israel, smashing seven decades of American policy and provoking violent protests. 1 by one particular, Christian leaders publicly canceled their meetings with Mr. Pence.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority — a vital figure in the Trump administration’s ambitious plans for a sweeping Middle East peace deal — also canceled.
Then Mr. Pence himself canceled the entire trip, saying he necessary to remain in Washington to oversee an crucial tax reform vote — an assertion that drew a measure of skepticism.
A White Home official also stated it was “not virtually possible” for Mr. Pence to travel due to the fact the tax vote would have pushed his trip against the Jewish holiday of Shabbat and Christmas.
Now, as he prepares for his tentatively rescheduled trip in mid-January, the unanimous chorus of rejection from Christian leaders bodes ominously for his ambitions for the check out.
Mr. Pence had hoped the trip would aid end the storm of recrimination unleashed by Mr. Trump’s decision on Jerusalem and allow the administration to push forward with other priorities, like countering Iran and combating the Islamic State.
“This trip is part of type of the ending of that chapter, and the beginning of what I will say is the subsequent chapter,” a senior administration official told reporters for the duration of a background briefing in Washington on Friday.
As an alternative, opprobrium over Mr. Trump’s decision has sliced via political and sectarian lines across the Middle East, cutting into even the president’s most cherished alliances in the area.
Among the religious leaders who refused to meet Mr. Pence is the head of Al Azhar, Cairo’s ancient bastion of Sunni Muslim scholarship — a bold move unlikely to have been taken without at least tacit approval from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, an otherwise staunch Trump ally.
That was a blow. The Trump administration has made considerably of the plight of the Copts, the biggest Christian denomination in the Middle East, who have suffered a spate of devastating attacks on churches and buses filled with pilgrims this year.
Palestinians viewed Mr. Pence’s original delay with skepticism.
“Take it with a huge grain of salt — he wanted a way out,” mentioned Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian lawmaker and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee. “He knew he was not welcome.” Undoubtedly, the optics would most probably have been poor.
In Bethlehem — where the Abbas-Pence meeting had been scheduled to take location, according to Palestinian officials — banners that read “Bethlehem refuses US vice president’s go to,” now hang more than Manger Square, close to the Church of the Nativity.
On Sunday, a modest group of Palestinian protesters burned photographs of Mr. Pence and his chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, in the square and stamped on them, according to witnesses.
And the regional wave of anger more than the Jerusalem situation has however to subside. A spokesman for Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic patriarch of Egypt, underscored the depth of feeling. “The pope will simply not sit down with any individual so lengthy as this is the American position,” stated the spokesman, Rev. Boules Haliem. “We will usually stand with the individuals of Palestine.”
In Jerusalem itself, the patriarchs and leaders of 13 Christian churches stated in a Christmas message on Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s choice “tramples on the mechanism that has maintained peace throughout the ages,” and warned it “will lead to a extremely dark reality.”
Even close American allies in the area have shown displeasure. On Monday, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, had to resort to America’s veto power to block a United Nations Security Council resolution, drafted by Egypt, that demanded Mr. Trump to rescind his choice on Jerusalem, and his plans to move the American Embassy there.
On Tuesday, Ms. Haley lashed out at allies who voted against her, warning on Twitter that “The US will be taking names.”
The public snubs from Christian leaders are a sign of the deep ideological gulf between American evangelicals like Mr. Pence, whose support for Israel is rooted in biblical prophesy, and the Christian communities that have lived in the region given that the time of Jesus himself.
The conservative evangelical leaders who endorsed Mr. Trump in his run for the White Residence say they created it clear to him early in the campaign that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a single of their prime priorities, proper up there with opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
In a number of meetings at the White Property with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence and their aides, these evangelical advisers mentioned, they repeatedly pressed Mr. Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty more than Jerusalem and to move the American Embassy there, and had been promised it would happen. Mr. Pence became a major conduit for these religious leaders.
“I undoubtedly believe the choice would not have occurred with out the influence of evangelicals who are in communication with the White Residence,” mentioned the Rev. Johnnie Moore, an evangelical writer who has turn out to be a spokesman for the evangelical advisers to the Trump administration. “It has been an problem of priority for a lengthy time.”
Their causes are both theological and political. Evangelicals believe in the biblical prophecy that God promised the land of Israel — which includes contemporary-day Jerusalem — to Abraham and his descendants. They also believe in the prophecy that the Jews must return to Israel from the diaspora ahead of Jesus will return — but evangelical leaders insist that these “end times” prophecies are not a major issue driving their passion on the problem.
Palestinian Christians do not identify with the evangelicals’ vision. Even though the list of Christian representatives originally scheduled to meet Mr. Pence had not however been completed, some, according to a single Palestinian official, had been curious to meet him for a theological argument. When they heard that the meeting was off, he stated, none were particularly disappointed.
“To declare Jerusalem as the capital based on some biblical argument is a harmful point,” stated Father Jamal Khader, the Catholic parish priest of Ramallah. “He’s wanting to separate Christians from the rest of the neighborhood. But we are part of the neighborhood.”
It is unclear if any Palestinians would in the end have met with Mr. Pence quietly, in Jerusalem. But by Wednesday, Mr. Abbas had left on what appeared to be a hastily scheduled trip to Saudi Arabia. Anticipated in France on Friday, he is scheduled to be back in time to attend the classic Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem on Sunday.
“I do not agree with an ideology that appears at Christians as Westerners, or wants us to side against Muslims,” Father Khader added. “No — we lived collectively for 1,400 years, and we can reside with them now.”
Published at Wed, 20 Dec 2017 23:28:46 +0000