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Pence Pushed for Policies on Israel    01/19 06:08

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Mike Pence is making his fifth visit to 
Israel, returning to a region he's visited "a million times" in his heart.

   An evangelical Christian with strong ties to the Holy Land, Pence this time 
comes packing two key policy decisions in his bags that have long been top 
priorities for him: designating Jerusalem as Israel's capital and curtailing 
aid for Palestinians.

   Since his days in Congress a decade ago, Pence has played a role in pushing 
both for the shift in U.S. policy related to the capital and for placing limits 
on funding for Palestinian causes long criticized by Israel.

   Traveling to Israel just as Palestinians have condemned recent decisions by 
President Donald Trump's administration, Pence will arrive in the region as a 
longtime stalwart supporter of Israel who has questioned the notion of the U.S. 
serving as an "honest broker" in the stalled peace process.

   "The United States certainly wants to be honest but we don't want to be a 
broker," Pence once told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010. "A broker 
doesn't take sides. A broker negotiates between parties of equals."

   The vice president will hold four days of meetings in Egypt, Jordan and 
Israel during his visit, the first to the region by a senior administration 
official since Trump announced plans in December to designate Jerusalem as 
Israel's capital and begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel 
Aviv, angering Palestinian leaders.

   Pence was departing as U.S. lawmakers sought to avert a federal government 
shutdown at midnight Friday. Senior White House officials said Pence planned to 
leave Friday evening as scheduled.

   His trip will also follow Tuesday's announcement that the U.S. is 
withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment to the 
U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides health care, education and social 
services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and 
Lebanon.

   Both decisions have come as Trump has expressed frustration over a lack of 
progress in restarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, 
who withdrew plans to meet with Pence during his visit to the Middle East.

   Senior White House officials said security issues, countering terrorism and 
efforts to push back against Iran would figure prominently during Pence's trip, 
which concludes on Tuesday. But the vice president also is expected to face 
questions about Israel's future.

   On the embassy, Pence played a steady role in pushing for the shift in U.S. 
policy. The decision upended past U.S. views that Jerusalem's status should be 
decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim east 
Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

   Pence had wanted the Trump administration to convey "a clear-cut policy" on 
Jerusalem after the president asked him last summer to visit the Middle East, 
White House officials have said.

   Pence discussed the issue with Jewish and evangelical leaders in the months 
leading up to the decision and advocated for the plan within the 
administration. But he noted to religious leaders late last year that the 
decision was the president's alone and would fulfill a commitment from the 2016 
campaign.

   Pence has long aligned himself with Israel.

   In Congress, he pushed for limiting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority 
during the presidency of George W. Bush, warning the funding could be 
redirected to groups like the militant Hamas movement, which controls Gaza.

   He was a vocal advocate for Israel's security fence and co-sponsored the 
Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act in 2011 to recognize Jerusalem as 
Israel's undivided capital. Veteran House members recall Pence's role as a 
staunch ally of Israeli causes and his steadfast support for moving the embassy 
to Jerusalem at times when few were talking about the issue.

   As Indiana's governor, Pence signed a bill requiring the state to divest 
from any business that engaged in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions 
Movement --- a grassroots international boycott movement against Israel.

   Kenneth Weinstein, CEO of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, 
said it has been "central to his political life from the absolute outset, from 
when he first ran for Congress --- it's something that's central to who he is, 
to what he believes in."

   Pence traveled to Israel for the first time as an Indiana congressman in 
January 2004, joining a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Greater 
Indianapolis. He placed a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and 
visited the Western Wall, both of which are on Pence's itinerary again next 
week, and had a private meeting with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

   Doug Rose, a philanthropist in Indianapolis, flew with Pence on his 2004 
trip to Israel and recalled him being deeply affected by the experience. "How 
could you not be moved?" Rose said of their site visits.

   Pence told the Indiana Jewish Post and Opinion after his 2004 trip that he 
was often asked if he had been to Israel before, "and my response was, 'Only in 
my dreams.' I was raised an evangelical Christian and tried to read the Bible 
every day, so in my mind and in my heart I have been there a million times."

   Trump's decision on Jerusalem has drawn protests from Middle Eastern leaders 
and prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pull out of a planned 
meeting with Pence in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem. Administration 
officials said Pence is not expected to meet with Palestinian leaders during 
the trip.

   Pence remains popular with evangelical voters in the U.S., a large and 
influential constituency that helped propel Trump to victory in last year's 
election. American evangelicals, especially the older generation, have a strong 
affinity for Israel, drawn both on spiritual grounds and a genuine love for the 
modern-day country and the Jewish people.

   Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the U.S.-born founder and president of the 
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charity that raises tens of 
millions of dollars for Israeli causes from American evangelicals, said Pence's 
upcoming visit should go over well with evangelicals and help shore up their 
support for the Trump administration.

   "He's an extension of evangelicalism and evangelical feelings for Israel, 
and its history," Eckstein said. "Trump doesn't have that history. Pence has 
that history of being pro-Israel."


(KA)

 
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