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Pence Visits the Middle East
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Pence Visits the Middle East

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Vice-President Pence’s Middle East trip is clearly an effort by the Trump Administration to reinforce their policies in the region. Pence’s backing of Egyptian President Sisi was an expression of support for his continued moderate position vis-à-vis Israel as well a statement of encouragement for Egypt’s war against radical Islamists even in the Sinai. Similarly, in Jordan Pence expressed appreciation to King Abdullah for his continued support of the President. While Pence disagreed with the King concerning his objections to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they did agree to disagree on the subject of a capital in East Jerusalem for the Palestinians.  Finally, Pence paid a surprise visit to U.S. troops stationed in Jordan as advisers, in the fight against ISIS.

Pence’s final leg of his trip, to Israel, was a love affair with Netanyahu.  It is also a personal religious moment for Pence as a devout Evangelical Christian. There are many things troubling about what Pence will not comment on or do in Israel, however, which must be noted, as they clearly explain why Bibi and Trump have become so close.

Pence will not be meeting with the leadership of the Palestinians who have refused the meeting.  Mahmoud Abbas had opposed Trump’s decision to recognize officially Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, therefore, Abbas declined the meeting.  Given the fact that the U.S. had disregarded the legitimate concerns the Palestinians had about this decision, which Abbas felt ought to have been factored into the discussion. Abbas declared that the U.S. could no longer be a fair broker for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Pence reportedly also declined to meet with the leaders of the political opposition in the Israeli Knesset. While he will meet with the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and hold talks with Netanyahu, his staff suggested even a symbolic meeting with the opposition could not be arranged in his schedule.  It is more likely that Pence was dissuaded from holding a meeting by Netanyahu’s persuasive influence on the Trump Administration as well by the U.S. Ambassador in Israel.

Finally, there is something inexplicable in the position taken by the Israeli Government vis-à-vis the Africans seeking asylum in Israel.  The plight of the Sudanese and Eritreans seeking a haven in Israel from persecution, cannot be addressed by Pence as his very own Administration itself is so deeply embroiled in their own immigration policy issues which also are advocating the expulsion of immigrants and the restriction of immigration. Some of the same blatantly racist attitudes which Trump has used against people attempting to gain entry into the U.S. are being employed by Netanyahu as well against the Africans.  

For Bibi, however, what is truly unfathomable is his historical myopia. He knows how Jews fought throughout the 1930’s against restricted immigration laws which limited and bared Jews from escaping and surviving the Nazis; including even being bared entry to Palestine. For an Israeli Government to even consider limiting Africans seeking to escape persecution and death is profoundly troubling. For Netanyahu, however, it provides him with an additional shameful bond with America’s President and Vice-President.   

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