Mitt Romney plans to visit Israel this summer, The New York Times reported Monday evening quoting Israeli sources, which the Romney campaign later confirmed. Reuters reports the trip will take place in late July. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Israeli President Shimon Peres, opposition Labor Party leaders and U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro during his trip which is expected to last less than two days.
Romney’s pre-election trip emphasizes the fact that Obama has yet to visit Israel as president, though he has already traveled to 30 countries since being elected. It was noted by some commentators that even the president of a country not exactly known for its warm relations with Israel, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, traveled to the Middle Eastern nation last week.
The Times reports:
For Mr. Romney, the trip is an opportunity to appeal both to Jewish voters and donors, whose overwhelming support of President Obama has softened, according to some polls, and to evangelical Christians, whose trust he is still fighting to win. At the March conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby known as Aipac, Mr. Romney vowed that Israel would be the destination of his first foreign trip as president, underscoring the fact that Mr. Obama has not visited here since his election, a sore spot among some Israel supporters.
Mr. Obama, too, came here as a presidential candidate, in July 2008 before his speech in Berlin. He met with Mr. Netanyahu — then the leader of the opposition — as well as Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, Mr. Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. He visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum, and Sderot, the Israeli town near the border of the Gaza Strip that is the frequent target of missile attacks.
This will be Mr. Romney’s fourth visit to Israel. He first came with his family on a Mormon Church trip, according to a campaign official, then served as a keynote speaker at the Herzliya Conference on security in 2007. In January 2011, he spent three days here during a swing that also included Afghanistan and Jordan.
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary Magazine last month wrote about the contrast between Obama’s lack of a visit and Putin’s visit:
Jewish Democrats have been imploring President Obama to visit Israel to no avail ever since he was elected. But while the president has conspicuously avoided Israel during his foreign trips even when visiting the Middle East, the authoritarian running a far less friendly country has no scruples about coming to the Jewish state. […]
The visit will be Putin’s second to Israel as the leader of Russia (he previously visited in 2005) and puts President Obama’s refusal to go to Israel in an interesting light. Even though the president has embarked on a year-long Jewish charm offensive motivated by his desire to hold onto the Jewish vote this November, his decision not to try and win Israeli hearts and minds by coming to their country is curious, especially because it would be to his political advantage to do so.
On the campaign trail, Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama’s Mideast policy, accusing the president of throwing Israel “under the bus.” He told the Faith and Freedom Coalition last month that he would do “the opposite” of President Obama regarding Israel policy.
In December, Romney said Obama’s proposal last year that Israel agree to 1967 borders for a future Palestinian state would leave Israel with “indefensible borders.” Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he also said the president’s policy on Iran was: “timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear war.”
In a March op-ed in the Washington Post, Romney described Obama as the “most feckless president since Carter” in Iran policy. He wrote the president’s “rhetoric has not been matched by an effective policy” in stopping the Islamic Republic’s march toward nuclear weapons.
In a statement to The New York Times, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said:
“Governor Romney has said he would do the opposite of what President Obama has done in our relations with Israel. 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?”
President Obama did visit next-door Egypt in 2009. With four months until election day, the question remains, will he squeeze in a trip to Israel, as some prominent Democratic donors have reportedly been urging him to do?