Why is Jerusalem so central to Pence's Middle East visit?

JERUSALEM, Jan 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's planned trip to Israel on Sunday has been overshadowed by President Donald Trump's announcement last month that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and will start the process of moving its embassy there.

Pence, an evangelical Christian, plans to meet Israeli leaders and to visit the Western Wall, the Israeli parliament and a Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem during the two-day visit, after stops in Egypt and Jordan.

Arabs, Muslims protest Trump's Jerusalem decision:

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Arabs, Muslims protest Trump's Jerusalem decision
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Arabs, Muslims protest Trump's Jerusalem decision
Demonstrators pray during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Palestinians react during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinian demonstrators burn posters of the US president in Bethlehem's Manger Square in protest to him declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6, 2017. Abbas said the United States can no longer play the role of peace broker after Donald Trump's decision on Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. / AFP PHOTO / Musa AL SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian refugee family watches a televised broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump delivering an address where he is expected to announce that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, near Amman, Jordan December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Palestinian refugee family watches a televised broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump delivering an address where he is expected to announce that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, near Amman, Jordan December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Palestinian refugee family watches a televised broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump delivering an address where he is expected to announce that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, near Amman, Jordan December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A Palestinian refugee watches a televised broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump delivering an address where he is expected to announce that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, near Amman, Jordan December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A Palestinian refugee family watches a televised broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump delivering an address where he is expected to announce that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, near Amman, Jordan December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
U.S. President Donald Trump and ?Vice President Mike Pence? arrive for Trump to deliver remarks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Palestinians react during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians react during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians react during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Palestinians prepare to burn a representation of an Israeli flag during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Hamas supporters stage a protest against the possible U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City , Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. President Donald Trump is forging ahead with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests. (Photo by Ezz al-Zanoun/NurPhoto(
Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh during a protest against the possible U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City , Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. President Donald Trump is forging ahead with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests. (Photo by Ezz al-Zanoun/NurPhoto(
Hamas supporters stage a protest against the possible U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City , Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. President Donald Trump is forging ahead with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests. (Photo by Ezz al-Zanoun/NurPhoto(
Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh during a protest against the possible U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City , Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. President Donald Trump is forging ahead with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests. (Photo by Ezz al-Zanoun/NurPhoto(
A woman holds a sign during a demonstration against the US and Israel at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. Hundreds of people staged protests in Istanbul angrily denouncing the US president's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. / AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian demonstrators stand on posters of the US president in Bethlehem's Manger Square in protest to him declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6, 2017. Abbas said the United States can no longer play the role of peace broker after Donald Trump's decision on Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. / AFP PHOTO / Musa AL SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian demonstrators burn posters of the US president in Bethlehem's Manger Square in protest to him declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6, 2017. Abbas said the United States can no longer play the role of peace broker after Donald Trump's decision on Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. / AFP PHOTO / Musa AL SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters wave Palestinian flags and chant slogans during a demonstration against the US and Israel in front of the US consulate in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. Hundreds of people staged a protest outside the US consulate in Istanbul angrily denouncing the US president's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Around 1,500 people gathered outside the well-protected compound close to the Bosphorus which was sealed off by police with barricades, an AFP correspondent said. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06: Protesters wave flags and shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate on December 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. People gathered to protest after U.S President Donald Trump declared recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump went ahead with the announcement despite warnings from Middle East leaders and the Pope condemning the decision. The announcement which breaks decades of U.S. policy threatens to bring further instability to the region. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06: Protesters wave flags and shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate on December 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. People gathered to protest after U.S President Donald Trump declared recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump went ahead with the announcement despite warnings from Middle East leaders and the Pope condemning the decision. The announcement which breaks decades of U.S. policy threatens to bring further instability to the region. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06: Protesters wave flags and shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate on December 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. People gathered to protest after U.S President Donald Trump declared recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump went ahead with the announcement despite warnings from Middle East leaders and the Pope condemning the decision. The announcement which breaks decades of U.S. policy threatens to bring further instability to the region. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06: Protesters wave flags and shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate on December 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. People gathered to protest after U.S President Donald Trump declared recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump went ahead with the announcement despite warnings from Middle East leaders and the Pope condemning the decision. The announcement which breaks decades of U.S. policy threatens to bring further instability to the region. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06: Protesters wave flags and shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate on December 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. People gathered to protest after U.S President Donald Trump declared recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump went ahead with the announcement despite warnings from Middle East leaders and the Pope condemning the decision. The announcement which breaks decades of U.S. policy threatens to bring further instability to the region. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - DECEMBER 6: Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh (4th L) attends a protest against US President Donald Trumps recognition of Jerusalem as Israels capital, in Gaza City, Gaza on December 6, 2017. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - DECEMBER 6: Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh attends a protest against US President Donald Trumps recognition of Jerusalem as Israels capital, in Gaza City, Gaza on December 6, 2017. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Protesters chant slogans and hold a poster with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi and placards reading 'There is no you or me, there is Jerusalem- Killer Israel get out of Palestine' during a demonstration against the US and Israel at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. Hundreds of people staged protests in Istanbul angrily denouncing the US president's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. / AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester burns an Israeli flag printed on a piece of paper during a demonstration against the US and Israel in front of the US consulate in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. Hundreds of people staged a protest outside the US consulate in Istanbul angrily denouncing the US president's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Around 1,500 people gathered outside the well-protected compound close to the Bosphorus which was sealed off by police with barricades, an AFP correspondent said. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters chant slogans and raise their fingers during a demonstration against the US and Israel in front of the US consulate in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. Hundreds of people staged a protest outside the US consulate in Istanbul angrily denouncing the US president's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Around 1,500 people gathered outside the well-protected compound close to the Bosphorus which was sealed off by police with barricades, an AFP correspondent said. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester wearing a niqab waves a flag during a demonstration against the US and Israel in front of the US consulate in Istanbul on December 6, 2017. Hundreds of people staged a protest outside the US consulate in Istanbul angrily denouncing the US president's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Around 1,500 people gathered outside the well-protected compound close to the Bosphorus which was sealed off by police with barricades, an AFP correspondent said. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06: Protesters wave flags and shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate on December 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. People gathered to protest after U.S President Donald Trump declared recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump went ahead with the announcement despite warnings from Middle East leaders and the Pope condemning the decision. The announcement which breaks decades of U.S. policy threatens to bring further instability to the region. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Pence, however, is not scheduled to meet any Palestinian leaders, who declined to see him.

The trip was originally planned for December but was postponed after protests from Arab political and religious leaders - Muslim and Christian – about Trump's Jerusalem decision, which broke with decades of U.S. policy and drew widespread criticism from America's allies.

WHY DID TRUMP RECOGNIZE JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL'S CAPITAL, AND ANNOUNCE THE EMBASSY WILL BE MOVED THERE?

There has long been pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Trump made it a promise of his 2016 election campaign.

Pence and David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel appointed by Trump, are thought to have pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation. It is a decision that was popular with many conservative and evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and Pence. Many of them support political recognition of Israel's claim to the city.

WHY DOES JERUSALEM PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT?

Religion, politics and history.

Jerusalem is a city that is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each religion has sites of great significance there. Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, and by regional powers and invaders including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, early Muslim rulers, Crusaders, Ottomans, the British Empire, and by the modern states of Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Israel's government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state. The city even has different names. Jews call it Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, and Arabs call it Al-Quds, which means "The Holy."

But the city’s significance goes further.

At the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims internationally as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity but all that remains of them above ground is a restraining wall for the foundations built by Herod the Great. Known as the Western Wall, this is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.

Within yards of the wall, and overlooking it, are two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. The city is also an important pilgrimage site for Christians, who revere it as the place where they believe that Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected.

WHAT IS THE CITY'S MODERN HISTORY AND STATUS?

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the then British-ruled Palestine should be partitioned into an Arab state and a Jewish state. But it recognized that Jerusalem had special status and proposed international rule for the city, along with nearby Bethlehem, as a 'corpus separatum' to be administered by the United Nations.

That never happened. When British rule ended in 1948, Jordanian forces occupied the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

In 1980 the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring the "complete and united" city of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. But the United Nations regards East Jerusalem as occupied, and the city's status as disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The King of Jordan retains a role in ensuring the upkeep of the Muslim holy places.

DOES ANY OTHER COUNTRY HAVE AN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM?

Other countries have had embassies in Jerusalem in the past, but moved them out of the city some years ago. In December Guatemala's president, Jimmy Morales, said that his country will move its embassy from Tel Aviv. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said several countries were considering following the U.S. lead, but he declined to identify them.

Also in December, 128 countries voted in a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the U.S. to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained and 21 did not cast a vote.

WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN NEXT? HAS JERUSALEM BEEN A FLASHPOINT BEFORE?

The timeframe of the U.S. embassy move is unclear, with different predictions from Israeli and U.S. officials about how soon it could happen. Since the announcement there has been tension, with Palestinian protests in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. At least 18 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed since Trump's Dec. 6 announcement.

Although the clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces have not been on the scale of the first and second Palestinian intifadas in 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, violence has erupted before over matters of sovereignty and religion.

In 1969 an Australian Messianic Christian tried to burn down the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He failed, but caused damage. So charged was the Middle East's political climate - just two years after the Six Day War - that there was fury across the Arab world.

In 2000, the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, led a group of Israeli lawmakers onto the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex. Palestinians protested, and there were violent clashes that quickly escalated into the second Palestinian uprising, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Deadly confrontations also took place last July after Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance to the complex following the killing of two Israeli policemen there by Arab-Israeli gunmen.

Arab leaders across the Middle East have warned that a unilateral American move could lead to turmoil, and hamper U.S. efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

 

 

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