Pence set for warm Israeli welcome, Palestinian snub
US Vice President Mike Pence will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and address Israel's parliament Monday on a visit that will see him snubbed by the Palestinians, deeply angered by the White House's Jerusalem policy.
The visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a US military facility near the Syrian border.
Controversy back home over a budget dispute that has led to a US government shutdown has trailed Pence, and he sought to blame Democrats for the impasse during a speech to troops at the military facility on Sunday.
Arab outrage over US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6 had prompted the cancellation of several planned meetings ahead of Pence's tour.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is refusing to meet Pence because of the declaration, making his visit a rare one by a high-ranking US official not to include talks with the Palestinians.
Abbas was to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday and was expected to ask them to officially recognise the state of Palestine "as a way to respond" to Trump's declaration, Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki told AFP.
Israel will however enthusiastically welcome Pence, whose administration has pledged staunch support for the country.
He will meet Netanyahu on Monday before addressing the country's parliament later in the day -- a speech that Israeli Arab lawmakers will boycott, calling Pence "dangerous and messianic".
On Tuesday, the devout Christian will visit Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Trump became the first sitting US president to visit the site when he traveled to Jerusalem in May 2017.
The site is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
The city's status is perhaps the most sensitive in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinians' reaction to Trump's recognition was an illustration of the importance placed upon it.
Beyond refusing to meet Pence, Abbas has said the United States can no longer serve as mediator in Middle East peace talks and the Palestinians were planning a general strike on Tuesday to protest Trump's declaration.
Netanyahu said Sunday night, using Abbas' Arabic nickname: "Regarding peace, I have a message to Abu Mazen. There's no substitute to the American leadership in leading the diplomatic process."
"Whoever won't discuss peace with the Americans, doesn't want peace," he said.
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