Mike Pence’s invitation to visit the Palestinian territories was revoked Thursday following the change of Jerusalem’s status by the White House, a top Fatah official said.
The vice president, an evangelical Christian and a key backer of the move to upend seven decades of U.S. policy regarding the holy city, will likely see it as a small price to pay, given the significance of Jerusalem to America’s religious right.
Pence had been scheduled to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Dec. 19 during a visit to the region.
But Jibril Rajoub, secretary for the Fatah Central Committee, told reporters the meeting would not go ahead. “We will not receive him in the Palestinian territories,” he said.
A U.S. official told the Associated Press Pence still intended to meet Abbas.
Trump’s shock decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, against the advice of world leaders, the U.N. and some of his own Cabinet, caused outrage across the Muslim world. Israeli security forces and U.S. embassies across the Middle East were bracing themselves Friday for a second day of violent protests, following calls from Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah for a third intifada.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said more than 100 people were injured in Thursday’s protests, as demonstrators clashed with Israeli troops. Two missiles were reportedly fired at Israeli territory, both detonating within Gaza.
With critics warning the move could harm America’s national interest, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital appears to have been driven by a desire to appeal to Trump’s domestic base, rather than to achieve foreign policy objectives.
In particular, the move is targeted to appeal to evangelical Christians, who gave Trump 81 percent of their vote in 2016 — more than voted for fiercely evangelical George W. Bush.
Evangelicals have strong representation in Trump’s Cabinet, most notably Pence, a hard-line Christian conservative who is a sponsor at the weekly Bible study sessions that are a fixture in Trump’s White House.
Trump has taken up the religious right’s agenda on issues from conservative judges to opposing abortion to the “war on Christmas,” but few issues are as important to evangelicals as Israel’s possession of Jerusalem.
Johnnie Moore, a spokesman for Trump’s informal group of evangelical advisers, told CNN that Jerusalem was “second only to concerns about the judiciary” for evangelicals. “President Trump has – yet again – demonstrated to his evangelical supporters that he will do what he says he will do,” Moore said.
While other Christian leaders – including the Pope, and high-profile Christians in the Middle East – cautioned against the move, fearful it would spark bloodshed in the region, evangelicals have been delighted by Trump’s announcement. “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends,” said Pastor Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center.
The importance of Jerusalem for conservative evangelicals stems from their reading of passages in the Old Testament, such as Genesis 17:8, in which the holy land is promised to the Jews: “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.”
Many evangelicals see the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of that Biblical promise to God’s “chosen people.”
And for some fundamentalists, Jerusalem is also central to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy around the “End Times.” Establishing Judeo-Christian control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount – holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity – is crucial to this; they believe that rebuilding the third and final Temple at the site will bring about the events described in the Book of Revelation, in which the righteous will be resurrected.
It’s an apocalyptic belief which is now having real world consequences, as the region braces for further unrest. The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to respond to the crisis.