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Amid political upheaval, US says Biden to visit Israel next month as planned

Lapid now expected to greet American leader as interim PM; US envoy reiterates visit has nothing to do with who is premier

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Then-finance minister Yair Lapid meets with Then-US vice president Joe Biden in Washington, DC, in 2013. (courtesy/ File)
Then-finance minister Yair Lapid meets with Then-US vice president Joe Biden in Washington, DC, in 2013. (courtesy/ File)

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides confirmed Monday that President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel will go forward as planned, despite the political turmoil in Israel.

The envoy spoke to The Times of Israel shortly after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that they would be submitting legislation next week to dissolve the Knesset and that the latter would replace the former as interim premier before elections in the fall.

If the legislation is passed as expected, Lapid will be prime minister when Biden lands in Israel on July 13 for his first visit as president.

Bennett appeared to hint at this development in a briefing with reporters earlier Monday. Asked whether he’d still prime minister by the time Biden arrives given the fragility of his coalition, Bennett paused for several seconds before responding, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Nides’ comments were consistent with what Biden officials have insisted for weeks — that the president’s visit would go forward regardless of the political situation in Israel.

“We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any one government. The president looks forward to the visit next month,” a spokesperson for the US embassy in Israel said in a Monday statement, declining to comment further on the prospects of a fifth Knesset election in roughly five years.

Biden is scheduled to spend two days in Israel and the West Bank before stopping in Saudi Arabia to participate in the annual meeting of the GCC+3 with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week that Biden would meet with Bennett, Lapid, President Isaac Herzog, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. While Bennett will only be assuming the role of alternate prime minister next month if the Knesset is indeed dissolved, he will likely still meet Biden in some capacity given his senior role in the government, a source familiar with the matter speculated.

It has also been traditional for US presidents to meet with the head of the opposition, particularly during an election cycle. This would mean a potential sit-down between Biden and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who have a long rapport, though one with no shortage of disputes. Summarizing their relationship in a 2014 speech, Biden recalled signing a picture for Netanyahu years earlier on which he wrote, “Bibi I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.”

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