Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is considering planning his potential upcoming trip to the United States over a weekend in an effort to avoid missing crucial Knesset votes back at home, a diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
Following then-president Reuven Rivlin’s visit to the White House two weeks ago, US President Joe Biden extended an invitation to Bennett to travel to the White House “as early as possible.” Over the past two weeks, the offices of the two leaders have been trying to coordinate a suitable date for Bennett’s first official visit since he took office.
Bennett will make the trip around mid-August, Channel 12 News reported on Wednesday. Topping the agenda for talks with Biden will be developments in Iran and the recent election of a new president in that country, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the Israeli television report said.
Bennett’s office is weighing holding such a trip between a Thursday and a Monday in order to avoid letting the opposition, led by former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, take advantage of his absence to vote down government-proposed legislation or pass its own motions, the source told The Times of Israel.
The Knesset holds plenum sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the opposition has been urging all of its members to attend, deliver lengthy speeches and file a torrent of reservations to filibuster the meetings and drag them on for hours — frequently spilling over into the early morning hours of Thursday.
The coalition enjoys a wafer-thin 61-59 majority in the parliament and requires full attendance at most plenum sessions.
But a weekend trip to Washington DC could create problems of its own. The schedule would be extremely tight since it is customary for Israeli leaders to not work or hold official meetings on the Shabbat day of rest, which begins Friday shortly before sundown and lasts roughly 25 hours until Saturday night.
That’s in addition to the fact that Bennett himself is an observant Jew who keeps Shabbat. He also would likely not want to hold such an important meeting on Friday morning or afternoon Washington time, when it would be nearing Shabbat in Israel and the proceedings would garner significantly less media attention.
Moreover, US presidents usually don’t hold official meetings or have a public schedule on Sundays, meaning the window for a Bennett-Biden meeting would likely only be Thursday. That would require that Bennett leave Israel early Thursday morning and hold the meeting before it is Thursday night in Israel.
The Knesset will break for recess starting August 8, and the US Congress will also be in recess. Hence, if the visit is postponed to the second half of August, Bennett would miss out on formally meeting congressional leaders, part of a regular routine when Israeli prime ministers visit DC.
The trip would be the first meeting between Bennett and Biden and the premier’s first public international trip since taking office last month.
Last month, Bennett accused the opposition and its leader, Netanyahu, of trying to harm Israel-US ties just to challenge his new government, after a false report claimed Biden was planning to revoke his predecessor Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli, and after Netanyahu slammed Bennett for allegedly giving up Israel’s right to independently attack Iranian nuclear sites.
In another diplomatic development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Israel at the end of August following an invitation from Bennett.
Merkel last visited Israel in 2018. During the upcoming trip, she will also meet with Israel’s new president Isaac Herzog, reports said.
Germany will hold federal elections in September and Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, will not seek a fifth term in office.