Trump To Embark On First Foreign Trip As President

JERUSALEM — Vice President Pence wrapped up a four-day Middle Eastern tour Tuesday with a visit to one of Judaism’s holiest sites, a symbolic end to a trip that has further enhanced the administration’s relationship with Israel but apparently widened a split with the Palestinian leadership. 

Prospects of reigniting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a goal that Pence has said he believes is still achievable, seemed more elusive than ever Tuesday. A senior White House official told reporters that there has been no contact with the Palestinian leadership since President Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6 formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Pence was warmly welcomed by Israelis, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and speaking before lawmakers at the Knesset. But Palestinian officials pointedly snubbed the visit, instead calling for a national strike and public protests. In Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, head of the militant Palestinian faction Hamas, said Pence was “not welcome.” He called on all Palestinian factions to unite and agree on “resistance in all forms.”

[Pence says U.S. Embassy to move next year on faster timetable]

The White House official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the peace process, said the United States is still dedicated to peace and “ready to engage whenever they are.” 

Palestinians carry an injured man during clashes with Israeli troops following a protest a visit by Vice President Pence to Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

 He said that even though “the U.S. now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital, the Trump administration holds that the specific boundaries of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is to be worked out between the parties and is a final-status issue.”

Pence’s visit to the Western Wall on Tuesday was seen by Israelis as a powerful statement, a continuing affirmation of the Trump administration’s close alignment with the Jewish state. Pence is the second senior U.S. leader in less than a year to make a personal visit to the Western Wall, which is known in Hebrew as the “Kotel.” In May, President Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City.

While it is customary for visiting dignitaries to go to the Western Wall — the outer wall of the raised esplanade that is called the Temple Mount by Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif by Muslims — U.S. leaders previously have deferred the visit because that part of Jerusalem sits on highly contested and sensitive territory captured by Israel in 1967.

[For female journalists, strip searches and segregation mar Pence’s visit to Israel]

A statement from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which manages the holy site, said Pence recited psalms and slipped a private note into the wall, a customary practice for Jews who believe it is a place where God is listening. 

When an Israeli journalist asked him how he felt, the vice president said, “Inspired.” 

Pence’s two-day stay in Israel — he visited Jordan and Egypt earlier in the trip — was received enthusiastically by Israeli leaders, who in recent years had been used to a more critical approach from the Obama administration. 

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