Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will not travel to Israel and the West Bank next week as planned, steering clear of the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.

As questions had begun to mount about the trade mission planned in September, O’Malley said in a statement Tuesday that he feared the trip could be a “distraction from the urgent cause of peace.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was dispatched to Israel Tuesday in an apparent attempt to head off an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, a step that would mark a major escalation of the week-old conflict in which 113 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed.

“For now, we join with our Israeli and Palestinian neighbors in praying for a cease-fire and peaceful resolution to the conflict,” O’Malley said.

The trip, which The Jewish Week recently wrote about questioning if it was O’Malley’s “first stop” in a bid for the White House in 2016, was scheduled to take O’Malley and an entourage of Maryland business leaders to Israel, Jordan and Ramallah in the Palestinian West Bank.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

O’Malley said he hoped to reschedule the trip in coming months.

“After many days of monitoring the situation in the Middle East, I’ve decided to reschedule Maryland’s Economic Development Mission to Israel,” he said.

“Not wanting to be a distraction from the urgent cause of peace, I look forward to visiting Israel in the months ahead with Maryland business, research and academic leaders.”

The trip would have been O’Malley’s third overseas venture of his second term and his third to Israel since 2005 (not including a much-discussed “jam session” at the residence of the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren last year).

O’Malley had announced the trip at the opening of ELTA North America, a radar company and subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, which will be based in Howard County.

In O’Malley’s two previous economic missions since reelection in 2010, he headlined a delegation last year of more than 100 Maryland business leaders, elected officials and lobbyists to India. He also made a brief stop in Doha, Qatar.

In 2010, O’Malley led a 68-member delegation on a similar trip to China, South Korea and Vietnam.