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Mike Pences (downsized) visit to the Middle East

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Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – US Vice President Mike Pence left the United States today on a four-day tour of the Middle East, which will take him to Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

Announced more than a month ago, the visit was supposed to include several stops in Palestine, at Christian holy sites, and meetings with Muslim and Christian leaders.

However, after President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was rejected by much of the international community, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has refused to meet him. Christian and Muslim religious leaders in the Holy Land and Egypt have also decided not to meet the US leader.

As a consequence, the visit was downsized so that the vice president will meet only close US allies, even if it was touted as the “last attempt” to bring peace to the Middle East.

This comes after the United States cut funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in a move seen by many observers as an attempt at blackmail.

The US administration said its decision was in response to Abbas’ refusal to participate in Israeli-Palestinian talks sponsored by the United States. In fact, the US seems to be increasingly tilting towards Israel as the Israeli government continues to expand its settlements in the occupied territories.

Another issue that Pence has emphasised ahead of trip was US support for persecuted Middle Eastern Christian communities.

Despite this, Christian religious authorities – in particular Egypt’s Tawadros II – have cancelled scheduled meetings with him, describing the US decision on Jerusalem as harmful for peace.

Pence is an evangelical Christian, with strong ties to the Holy Land and the most nationalist and apocalyptic fringes of the Jewish world.

According to some observers, his visit risks strengthening only ties between the US administration and Israel, and make no contribution to peace.

In fact, to prevent the situation from becoming even more inflamed, “He should stay home,” writes Mideast expert Ilan Goldenberg in Foreign Policy.

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