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Mike Pence facing difficult visit to Israel

In the East Jerusalem district of Silwan, just outside the old city walls, Jawad Siyam is thinking about visiting the American Vice President. Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has stirred emotions. "The US has destroyed all hope of the Palestinians," says the activist Siyam. For him, the visit has the "potential to create new tensions". But people first waited to see what Pence had to say. In any case, the US vice will not visit the occupied West Bank.

The date of the pence trip had already been postponed twice. Now the Vice President comes at a time when diplomatic relations between the United States and the Palestinians are at an absolute low and the timing of the controversial relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem is being discussed again. In protest at this decision, the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas had already canceled a planned meeting with Pence in Bethlehem in December.

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Tense American-Palestinian relations

The Palestinians also canceled a meeting with Pence in Bethlehem. The recent decision by the US government to freeze previously pledged aid to the UN Refugee Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) has put relations to the test again. In a speech last week, President Abbas once again made it clear that the US is no longer accepted by the Palestinians as a mediator of a peace initiative.

In Israel, Pence will speak in front of the Knesset, which is seen as an important gesture there. In 20008, George W. Bush was the last US president to address the Israeli parliament. "Before that, Bill Clinton spoke in front of the Knesset, Bush was there at the celebrations for 60 years of Israel. A speech in the Knesset is a special thing," says Eytan Gilboa, Israeli expert on Israeli-American relations at Bar Ilan University .

Evangelical view of the Middle East

Often described as a devout evangelical Christian, Pence may also have his own support base in the United States in mind. "The evangelicals are one of Israel's biggest supporters, perhaps more so than the Jewish community at the moment. They are the core base of the Trump administration," said Gilboa.

For the Palestinians, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an affront

Originally, Pence's visit was also intended to support the Christian minorities in the region. But he is unlikely to meet Christians in the Holy Land. The churches, too, had sharply criticized the US president's decision in Jerusalem and urged that the city's status quo be maintained. An apparently planned visit to the Church of the Nativity, one of the holiest places of Christianity in the occupied West Bank, is no longer on the program.

Bishop Munib Younan, former leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Jerusalem, said, “Many people here think that pressure from evangelical groups in the US, including Pence, or is believed to be close, has a role in that Jerusalem Decision. Their apocalyptic visions and understanding of Jerusalem are damaging the peace and justice in Jerusalem. "

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Controversial visit to the Western Wall

Evangelical Christians are part of the Christian Zionist camp that supports the State of Israel. Some of them believe in an end-time scenario that will eventually occur in Jerusalem. "You are an important constituency and a domestic political factor," says American Bishop Oscar Cantú, who recently visited Jerusalem on the occasion of a visit by Catholic bishops. He too is critical of the capital city decision. "The United States has been an important interlocutor for many years to bring the two parties together for dialogue. Now the Palestinians are suspicious and feel that we have taken sides unilaterally."

Pence's expected visit to the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, could create new tensions. US President Trump also visited the holy place during his trip in May, but his visit was declared "private" at the time in order to avoid any controversy about the delicate status quo. But after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the planned Western Wall visit by US Vice Pence is in a different light for the Palestinians.