The just concluded visit to the Middle East by US Vice President Mike Pence has been a failure if measured against its stated goals.
Ever since he decided to visit the region, Pence made it clear that his visit was aimed at boosting and highlighting what he called the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. His second declared goal was to boost peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The original trip planned for December was postponed twice. Officially the delays were said to be connected to domestic US issues with his role as the tie breaker in America’s senate. But few people believe that this was the only reason he twice postponed his visit. The US VP who stood proudly behind President Donald Trump when he made his infamous speech about recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel became the target of angry opposition from both Muslim and Christian Arabs.
Not only did the Palestinian president and leadership announce that they will not meet with Pence or any other American official but the same position was also made by leaders of the Christian community in the region. The Coptic Pope, the Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs and leaders of Arab Evaneglical churches all unanimously announced that they will not meet with Pence.
In fact opposition to the stated visit by Pence was made even before the controversial Jerusalem statement was made. There were no problems facing Christians that required Pence’s intervention which many felt that Pence’s involvement will make things worse by creating unnecessary tensions. One Christian leader, Imad Mayyah head of the Jordanian Evangelical Council, whose churches are seeking governmental recognition said that he prefers his church stays unrecognised for years rather than have its recognition come at the hands of the controversial Pence.
Pence eventually made it to the region but received lukewarm reception. In Egypt Pope Tawadros II, boycotted the US vice president and in Jordan a low level governmental delegation was sent to meet Mike Pence at the airport. Pence did meet with Egyptian and Jordanian heads of state but even in those meetings, there were disagreements. The Royal Court released a video of part of the meeting showing the King berating the Americans for not taking his continuous advise about the dangers of their position on Jerusalem.
The last leg of the trip was also not very pleasant. Palestinian leaders stuck to their boycott position of all American officials who they said have disqualified themselves as peace sponsors after supporting the position of one side and rewarding aggression and occupation rather than standing for justice.
Religious leaders also were nowhere to be seen and the routine visits to the holy city. Pence who visited the Western Wall, didn’t visit Al Aqsa Mosque nor did he visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Bethlehem’s Nativity Church. Rumours that Pence might make a midnight visit to the church never materialised as the holder of the church’s keys for centuries a respected Muslim family said that they will not cooperate with the controversial after hours visit.
A general strike was conducted in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank in protest of the visit which further reflected Palestinian public opposition to the pro-Israel American official’s visit. Even the extremely warm welcome by the Israeli Knesset was interrupted by protests of Arab Knesset members who raised signs saying that Jerusalem is capital of the Palestinian state. Pence did make a speech that received 29 applauses in which the word Iran featured more times (14) than the term Jewish (13 times). No mention was made of the illegal settlements and Palestinians received a single mention in a line that expressed American hope that Israelis and Palestinians would make peace.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of the entire failed visit by the vice president of the United States was the repeated insertion of Pence’s own Christian Zionist theology in his words and actions.
As if the region doesn’t have enough trouble dealing with the political problems that exist, the idea of bringing messianic religious theology into the badly divided region is akin to adding oil to the burning fire. The last thing that Palestinians and Israelis need is the insertion of end times dispensational theology as an arbitrator of a political 21st century conflict.
Instead of using God’s words to encourage the parties to pursue peace with justice, the US Christian Zionist leader wants to further escalate the tensions as a means of speeding up the second coming which will include further death and destruction to the peoples of this region.