Mitt Romney plans summer trip to Israel, meeting with Netanyahu and other leaders
Mitt Romney is planning a trip to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders this summer before he formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination, a senior campaign official confirmed Monday.
Romney’s visit with a crucial U.S. ally in the Middle East, first reported by The New York Times, is expected to coincide with his trip to London at the end of July to attend the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games, although the campaign official, who was not authorized to discuss the trip publicly, said an exact date had not been set.
This will be Romney’s second foreign trip since launching his presidential campaign in June 2011; he held a fundraiser in London last year. But he has visited Israel several times before, most recently in January 2011, when he also went to Afghanistan and Jordan.
Romney has made Israel a centerpiece of his assault on President Obama’s record on foreign affairs. The former Massachusetts governor has tried to cast the president as weak on his support of that country, once pledging to “do the opposite” of the Obama administration on Israel.
Romney, with his strong defense of Israel, has sought to consolidate his support among pro-Israel evangelical Christians as well as Jewish voters and donors. Jews overwhelmingly supported Obama in the 2008 campaign, but Romney’s strategists believe some could be swayed to switch allegiances this time, especially in the key battleground of Florida.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt suggested that Romney has been too vague in laying out his policies with regard to Israel.
“Governor Romney has said he would do the opposite of what President Obama has done in our relations with Israel,” LaBolt said in a statement. “Now he must specify how -- 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?”
Romney campaign officials declined to discuss the Israel trip. But The Times reported that in addition to Netanyahu — a personal friend of Romney’s since their years working together as management consultants — Romney plans to meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority; Israeli President Shimon Peres; U.S. Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro; and leaders of the opposition Labor Party in Jerusalem.
“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, told The Times. “We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”
The Times also reported that Romney is planning at least one public event and that the trip would likely last less than two days.