JERUSALEM — Seconds after Vice President Pence began speaking before the Israeli parliament earlier this week, a small group of Israeli Arab representatives angrily stood to protest President Trump's recent decision to formally recognize this city as the capital of Israel.
The day before, in Jordan, Pence sat down to lunch with King Abdullah II and was lectured on why the Jerusalem decision was the wrong one and how the United States now needs to "rebuild the trust and confidence" of Arab nations.
Both times, the vice president listened stoically but did not budge in his firm defense of the decision.
As Pence traveled through the Middle East this week, visiting three nations over four days, he made clear that the administration is unfazed by criticism from foreign leaders over the Jerusalem decision while downplaying the tensions it has led to in the region.
Pence said that he's confident a single issue will not doom relationships with most allies — and that he believes Trump's decision to take the issue of Jerusalem "off the table" could hasten a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, an idea that others in the region say is detached from reality.
By the end of the trip, Pence's welcome to Jerusalem with trumpets and standing ovations felt like a victory tour.
Parts of Jerusalem were decorated with Israeli and American flags, and billboards proclaiming: "Welcome Vice President Pence! You are a true friend of Zion!" Israeli President Reuven Rivlin fondly labeled him "a mensch," and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him "a true friend."
Pence — an evangelical Catholic who has extensively studied Jerusalem — became the first vice president to address the Knesset, as the parliament is called, and had a private visit to the hallowed Western Wall, where he left a note and prayed. He called home to Trump at least twice a day.
"The American people cherish our relationship with the state of Israel," Pence said in an interview with NBC on Tuesday, his final day in Jerusalem. "We stand with Israel for her security and prosperity, but in the same breath . . . we are committed to peace."
Pence left Washington on Friday evening and was over the Atlantic Ocean when lawmakers failed to reach a budget agreement and the federal government shut down.
Early Saturday, Air Force Two landed to refuel at Ireland's Shannon Airport, where dozens of young Air Force members headed to Kuwait were grounded because of a maintenance issue. The vice president — dressed in a Navy blue bomber-style jacket featuring a vice presidential seal the size of a saucer — ventured into the terminal to shake hands, pose for photos and, as a CNN camera rolled, urge them to stay focused on their military mission despite the shutdown.
Then he launched into a partisan attack, something that American leaders have long refrained from doing while standing on foreign soil or in the company of troops.
"Democrats in the Senate — with a few exceptions on either side — choose to put politics ahead of our national defense," Pence told reporters, standing in front of the terminal's food court bathrooms as his wife gave up trying to herd him back onto the plane. "And that's just unacceptable. It's disappointing."
Pence's brief visit with troops angered some Irish, as the country is neutral territory and antiwar activists have long questioned why the Irish government allows U.S. military planes transporting troops to stop at Shannon.
"It was also concerning because it was being used at a divisive time in Irish politics and that the messages being sent out by the political figures were being used as a source of division during the shutdown in American politics," Alice Mary Higgins, an independent senator, said at Ireland's Seanad Éireann this week.
Senate leader Jerry Buttimer responded by saying that while he doesn't agree with Pence on much, he doubted that the vice president "was being deliberately provocative."
Pence's deputy communications director, Jarrod Agen, responded Wednesday by saying: "I don't think the words of any foreign politician on Earth would prevent Vice President Pence from shaking the hands of American troops when he sees them, no matter what country he is in."
Later in the trip, Pence traveled to an air base near the Syrian border to meet troops who are fighting the Islamic State — and to repeat his attacks on Democrats. And when the shutdown ended on Monday, Pence was preparing to have dinner with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and told American and Israeli reporters what he thought.
"The Schumer Shutdown failed," Pence proclaimed, standing in Netanyahu's garden as he referred to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. "Now that the government is reopening, Congress can get back to work advancing the president's agenda … And it is, Mr. Prime Minister, an agenda that's making America great again."
After leaving Ireland, Pence's first stop in the Middle East was Cairo, where he met for about four hours with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whom he repeatedly called a "friend."
"The ties between Egypt and the United States have never been stronger," Pence said as the two sat side by side. "We are united."
Sissi seized power in a military coup in 2013 and has overseen the mass arrests of his political rivals, protesters and journalists. At the time, President Barack Obama penalized Egypt, saying the United States has to be "very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and ideals." But the United States needed Egypt's help in countering the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and Obama eventually released aid and military equipment that he had been holding back.
Publicly, Sissi and Pence focused on the threat of terrorism. Privately, Pence later told reporters, they discussed the Jerusalem decision, which Sissi opposes, and a new Egyptian law that effectively bans nongovernmental organizations that do human rights work, which Pence opposes.
Pence also asked Sissi to release two Americans who were imprisoned in 2013: Mustafa Kassem and Ahmed Etiwy. Kassem, an Egyptian American in his 50s from New York, was arrested when he demanded to be let through a police barrier to get to his car while running errands, according to his family. Etiwy, a college student in his 20s who is also from New York, got too close to a protest while helping his grandfather get to a bus stop, his family has said.
"I told him we'd like to see those American citizens restored to their families and restored to our country," Pence told reporters, saying that Sissi assured him he would give their cases "very serious attention." Pence also noted that both prisoners were "detained before when President al-Sissi took office."
A number of other Americans remain imprisoned in Egypt, and Pence said he "raised the broader issue" with Sissi. Last spring, the Trump administration quietly negotiated the release of Aya Hijazi, a 30-year-old American who ran a charity in Cairo that rehabilitated street children. Her release followed Sissi's visit to Washington, where Trump warmly welcomed him and posed for photos in the Oval Office.
Just before the flight to Jordan, a reporter asked Pence if he confronted Sissi about his treatment of the press and his alleged human rights violations, including the targeted persecution of lesbians and gays.
"President al-Sissi said to me . . . that his dedication is to all of the people of Egypt, and he has an aspiration to continue to move this country toward a greater respect for the rich diversity of all of its people," Pence said. "And we encouraged him in that."
The next day, Pence was seated at a lavish Sunday lunch with King Abdullah at his royal palace in Amman. As protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy, Abdullah delivered a frank critique of the Jerusalem decision, as the vice president stoically listened.
"For us, Jerusalem is key to Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews," Abdullah said. "It is key to peace in the region."
Pence then rattled off his usual rebuttal: Despite the "historic decision," he said that the United States will continue to respect Jordan's role as the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that the final boundaries in Jerusalem are "subject to negotiation." He added that the United States continues to want a two-state solution, as long as "the parties agree," and wants to see the peace process restarted.
White House officials have grown increasingly frustrated that media coverage of the decision has not given more attention to those details. On Pence's last day in Jerusalem, his staff arranged for reporters to speak with a senior White House official who is involved with composing a peace plan, on the condition that the official would not be identified. The conversation focused on the work being led by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his former real estate attorney, Jason Greenblatt, who was in Jerusalem during the vice president's visit.
The senior official said that the Greenblatt and Kushner plan will probably be released this year. Pence said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday that the timing "depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table."
Kushner and Greenblatt have not spoken with Palestinian leadership since the Dec. 6 Jerusalem announcement, the official said. Pence didn't meet with any Palestinian leaders during his trip, and White House officials said they did not reach out to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to reschedule a canceled meeting.
"They know my phone number, and they know that I'm always available," the official told reporters. "So I've not spoken to them nor have they reached out."
Earlier this month, Abbas hurled insults at the Trump administration in a two-hour speech and said the United States could no longer be a fair mediator. Trump responded by dramatically cutting U.S. aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Kushner and Greenblatt are in communication with Palestinians who are not government officials, the official said.
"There are so many Palestinians who are reaching out. . . . They all want to continue to talk, but they're all afraid to talk," the official said. "They're under a lot of pressure not to talk. It doesn't bode well for what we're trying to create if there's no freedom of speech among the Palestinians, so that troubles me greatly. And we're trying to figure out how to deal with it."