Vice President Mike Pence visits Israel amid rising tensions in the country
By Jacob Abel
On January 21, 2018, United Sates Vice President, Mike Pence, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, marking his last stop on a three-nation tour that included Egypt and Jordan.
Vice President Pence’s trip was originally set to take place in December 2017, however, it was delayed so that the vice president could remain in Washington to cast his tie-breaking vote in favor of the GOP tax plan, according to Slate.
His visit came amid rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians over the recent controversial decision by the Trump administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The change in policy by President Trump also involves moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
While Pence gave a speech at the Israeli Parliament, known as the Knessent, multiple Arab lawmakers staged a protest. According to the Washington Post, the lawmakers held up signs that read, “Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine.” Officials had to rip the signs out of the hands of the protestors so that Vice President Pence could continue his speech.
In a highly publicized ceremony, Vice President Pence visited the Western Wall, considered one of the holiest sites in the Jewish tradition. According to the Washington Post, Vice President Pence appeared to say a prayer as he placed a small piece of paper with a prayer on it in the wall, as is customary, and placed his hand on the wall while closing his eyes. While vice president was at the site, there was controversy, due to the fact that, female journalists were not given the same access to take pictures as male journalist.
The site is maintained by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation which is a Jewish Orthodox organization. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Jewish-Orthodox organization that maintains the site, the wall is segregated by gender, with men going to one area and women to another. According to Time, female journalists’ view were obstructed by an awning, causing them to move to a different position in order to get a better view. However, even when they moved to a different position, their view was still obstructed. In a statement to the Washington Post, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who is the head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, said that the rules would not change at the wall and that it is custom for men and women to be separated.
Palestinian officials are refusing to meet with Pence because of the recent decision by the Trump administration, so Vice President Pence will not be meeting with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while in Israel. The decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is seen by many as the U.S. firmly taking the side of Israel, meaning that it can no longer be seen as a mediator between the two sides.
Reuters reports that, the Palestinian President called the U.S. decision “a slap in the face.” The decision to move the embassy has caused frustration among many close U.S. allies in the region including Egypt, who, because of the decision, authored a resolution at the United Nations condemning the Trump Administrations decision to move the embassy.
The Trump administration still seems committed to a two state solution even after the embassy decision. According to Reuters, in meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Pence stated that the U.S. still wanted to see the Israelis and Palestinians coming to the negotiating table to seek a peaceful solution. There is a belief among some experts, including Dennis Ross, who spoke recently at Seton Hall, that the decision to move the embassy may give the United States more leverage over the Israelis. This would allow the Americans to ask Israel to take more conclusive steps in negotiations with the Palestinians.