Mitt Romney, the presumptive US Republican presidential nominee, will be visiting Israel in the near future, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
According to the story, Romney is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and members of the Israeli Opposition.
Romney’s itinerary does not include a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the Times.
A visit to Israel is becoming almost customary for US presidential candidates in an election season. In 2008, candidates John McCain and Barack Obama visited Israel in March and July, respectively. In July 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry did not – but sent his brother as his emissary instead.
In the Contentions blog on Commentary Magazine‘s website, Alana Goodman contended the trip will serve two purposes. It will call further attention to the fact that US President Barack Obama failed to visit Israel while in office, while giving Romney a chance to improve his standing among pro-Israel voters and donors, and strengthen his foreign policy image.
Prominent Democratic donors have criticized President Obama for avoiding Israel during his first term, despite his trips to other countries in the region. Even Vladimir Putin travelled to the Jewish state this summer, which made Obama’s failure to visit even more obvious.
Members of Romney’s own campaign have been quietly grumbling that the candidate spends very little time focused on foreign policy. The Israel trip will give Romney a chance to broach some of these issues, while also putting the Obama campaign on defense. If there’s one subject Obama wants to talk about less than the economy, it’s his rocky relationship with Netanyahu.
The announcement from the Romney campaign did not induce Obama to change his mind about visiting Israel before the presidential elections. The White House confirmed yesterday that Obama is not expected to travel abroad again before November.
Key Republicans endorsed Romney’s upcoming trip, according to the prominent US political website, The Hill, while advising him not to mount a direct attack on Obama’s Israel policies during the visit.
“It’s a very good idea, but strike the right tone,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “Do not utter Barack Obama’s name with regard to policy in Israel. He can go there and reiterate his record, build some confidence in the Israeli people and send a message to Americans [about] what kind of a relationship he would have and what kind of policy he would have toward Israel.”
Other Republicans, including Reps. Pete Sessions (Texas), Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Allen West (Fla.), have also argued a visit to Israel could help Romney politically.
“It’s not just a political thing, it’s the right thing to do,” said West. “I think the most important title the president has is commander in chief, and you need to be able to go out there to some of those critical areas.”
No date was set for Romney’s visit, but it has been suggested that it may be scheduled close to the date of the Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games in London towards the end of the month, which Romney is slated to attend.
In June, Romney said as president he would “do the opposite” of Obama regarding his handling of Israel. The Obama Campaign has turned Romney’s words against him, and did so again this week in response to the news of Romney’s upcoming Israel trip, as The Hill reported.
“Gov. Romney has said he would do the opposite of what President Obama has done in our relations with Israel. Now he must specify how,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in a statement. “Does that mean he would reverse President Obama’s policies of sending Israel the largest security assistance packages in history? Does it mean he would let Israel stand alone at the United Nations, or that he would stop funding the Iron Dome system? Does it mean he would abandon the coalition working together to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions?”