All eyes will be on US Vice President Pence's comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when he visits the Middle East this week, but a no smaller issue is just as essential to bringing peace to the region after all.
Last week, a spokeswoman for Pence said that “At President Trump’s direction, the vice president is traveling to the Middle East to reaffirm our commitment to work with the US’s allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations.”
There was no mention of convincing the Palestinians, the Israelis or any other party in the Mideast that some sort of agreement must be made between them, but there was mention of working together to "combat terrorism and assist persecuted religious minorities."
Many criticisms have been said about the current US administration, but it's hard to disagree that being a pushover worked for past administrations. “As an example," Trump tweeted in early January, "we pay the Palestinians hundred of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel." Or as The Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent described it: Trump will not be giving out any more free lunches.
Pence's visit to the Middle East next week couldn't have come at a better time. Originally planned for December, Pence had to cancel his Christmas pilgrimage to the Holy Land to oversee crucial legislation pass.
This passage of time gave way for Open Doors USA to publish its annual report last week on the persecution against Christianity across the world.
The results certainly shouldn't have been surprising for Pence, or for the rest of the world for that matter, but it has lit up the media again with the plight of one of the most shocking phenomena of this century. One in 12 Christians worldwide are persecuted because of their faith, and the leading factor creating this reality is radical Islamic oppression. Every single country in Middle East, with the exception of Lebanon and Israel, are on the list of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. Israel is still the only country there where the Christian population is actually growing.
In Pence's visit to Egypt and Jordan, which he will visit on the 20th and 21st, respectively, the same tone that President Donald Trump has used with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Pence must enunciate clearly with the representatives he meets there: The only way to find favor with the US is by doing what it asks, such as implementing simple and basic components that every 21st century country needs to have, such as freedom of religion.
Only once the US is able to get firm commitments to rid the radical elements in the Middle East, or at the very least isolate them, then should it start moving in the direction of making larger negotiations.
There can be no way that the US continues to fund and support Arab nations in the Middle East without them pursuing the most basic of human rights. This is not only an element of Islamism that has breached into the region, there is a longstanding tradition of radicalism that has become an essential part of the way the region is ruled. For example, if Trump is willing to make aid to Egypt dependent on the Arab country's willingness to help negotiate a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, then he should do no less to make certain that a serious effort will begin to improve the way the country treats its individuals.
No other administration has shown so much commitment to actually making a change in the way the world works. If Pence and the US really want to make a difference in the Mideast, they have to understand that human rights - and in this case, the rights of persecuted Christians - isn't a side issue. It is the issue.