Israeli and US officials said President Obama would not delay his trip to Israel even in the event that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unable to form a government.
An Israeli Embassy official in Washington on Wednesday described as “baseless” reports in the Israeli media that Obama would delay his trip should Netanyahu fail to meet a March 16 deadline to form a government, a few days before Obama is due to arrive.
The official told JTA that preparations for the trip were continuing apace and there was no sign of a postponement. Obama is due to arrive in Israel on March 20 for his first visit to the country as head of state.
“We have no scheduling changes to announce,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. “The president is looking forward to, very much, his trip to Israel and the region, and we’re on course planning that trip.”
If Netanyahu fails to assemble a coalition by the deadline, President Shimon Peres will either task another politician with forming a government or call elections. Last week, Channel 10 reported, citing unnamed American sources, that in the event that Netanyahu does not succeed in efforts to form a coalition, Obama would cancel his visit.
The same report also claimed that the US hoped to see Yesh Atid’s leader, former TV news anchor Yair Lapid, take the post of foreign minister in the next coalition.
The enforced cancelation of Obama’s first visit to Israel as president would be hugely embarrassing for the Jewish state, whose leaders have long urged Obama to come. Israel’s alliance with the United States is by far its most important international partnership. The two leaderships have said they would consult on efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, the instability in Syria, ways to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, and other vital issues.
On Wednesday, Israeli media reported that Obama would not hold a planned public address at the Knesset, but rather at an alternative Jerusalem venue, probably the International Convention Center. Obama’s reason for skipping the Knesset is his preference for a “politically neutral” venue, Israel Radio reported.