Published: Sun, December 17, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Pence's visit to Israel delayed over USA tax reform vote

Pence's visit to Israel delayed over USA tax reform vote

Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Senate and are desperate to push through their tax plan - which, if successful, would mark Trump's only major legislative achievement this year - before the holiday break.

US Vice President Mike Pence delayed an upcoming trip to the Middle East in order to attend a Congress session where his tie-breaking vote could be needed over a tax legislation issue.

Pence's office confirmed he will now leave Washington on Tuesday, stopping in Egypt for a brief visit before arriving in Israel for a multi-day visit. Pence also shortened the length of his planned trip to the region after Palestinian officials and leading Muslim and Christian clerics in Egypt said they would refuse to meet with him.

The delay comes as Congress prepares to vote on a sweeping tax reform bill, and amid an ongoing outcry over President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the USA embassy to the holy city.

"It's unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region", Jarrod Agen, Pence's deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. Republican Senator John McCain, who is fighting brain cancer, was in hospital on Wednesday. The vice president does not plan to meet with any Christian groups during the trip or to visit the West Bank city of Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity.

Pence will meet on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver an address to the Knesset and later dine with Netanyahu.

White House officials said Pence will end his visit to Israel on Friday by meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Trump's announcement last week delighted Israeli leaders but was heavily criticized by many key USA allies and Palestinian leaders who see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Edelstein's spokesperson said Pence would likely speak at the Knesset on either Wednesday or Thursday.

That broke with decades of US policy and global consensus that viewed the holy city's political status should be decided up for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, who both claim the city as their capital.

The White House has said Trump remains committed to the goal of peace and notes he has not taken a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or resolution of its contested borders.

Tensions have simmered ever since Trump's controversial declaration last week, with many world leaders fearing it will mean the end of a two-state solution to the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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