US vice-president Mike Pence’s mission to the Holy Land to defend its shrinking Christian communities has been torpedoed by the refusal of Christian and Muslim prelates and Palestinian leaders to meet him.
The boycott was ignited by outrage over US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th. As this day is celebrated by Christians as the name day of St Nicholas, Mr Trump’s choice of date for his announcement was doubly insulting.
Christian and Muslim Arabs regard East Jerusalem as the occupied capital of a future Palestinian state, a position formally adopted by all 57 Muslim states at last Thursday’s summit in Istanbul. The US alone has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Instead of beginning his tour on Sunday in Jerusalem and Bethlehem as planned, Mr Pence is set to arrive in Cairo next Wednesday for a brief meeting with president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before flying to Jerusalem to meet Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and to address Israel’s parliament. An evangelical Christian who urged Mr Trump to make his Jerusalem declaration, Mr Pence will be warmly welcomed by Israelis.
His stay in Cairo was curtailed when he was rebuffed by top Christian and Muslim clerics. Coptic pope Tawadros cancelled an audience with Mr Pence, arguing Mr Trump “did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arab people”. The pope heads the region’s largest Christian community, constituting 10 per cent of Egypt’s 93 million people.