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Biden reportedly still planning to visit Israel in June, despite Knesset turmoil

White House said to inform Bennett’s office that US president’s trip is still on the schedule, even though the prime minister’s coalition is teetering

US President Joe Biden speaks about inflation and the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on May 10, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks about inflation and the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on May 10, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

The White House reportedly informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office on Saturday that US President Joe Biden still plans to visit Israel next month, despite the political turmoil in Jerusalem.

The president’s trip, announced last month, will take place as planned and is expected to happen at the end of June, Channel 12 said.

Preparations for the trip are already underway, including security coordination between Israeli and US officials.

During the trip, Biden’s first to Israel as president, he will meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog, then head to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Bennett’s governing coalition is teetering after two members jumped ship in recent weeks, reducing it to a minority of 59 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Meretz Knesset member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi resigned from the coalition on Thursday, but she is reportedly in talks to return to the fold.

The coalition can survive as a minority government. The opposition needs to muster support from 61 lawmakers to dissolve the Knesset or to form an alternative government in the current parliament, and it’s not clear that all members outside the coalition would vote to do so.

A Knesset member from the opposition’s Arab-majority Joint List faction announced on Friday that he would submit legislation to begin the process of dissolving the Knesset, but the bill would need to pass several readings and ultimately garner support from an absolute majority of Knesset members to succeed.

US President Joe Biden meets Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, August 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

There have been some recent tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over settlements, West Bank entry rules and the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a firefight between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen earlier this month.

Channel 12 reported Wednesday that American officials have strongly protested a planned new Israeli policy restricting foreigners’ entry into the West Bank. The planned measures would expand entry protocol for foreigners, including US citizens, making the process they need to go through longer and more convoluted.

Last week, after Israeli police rushed participants Abu Akleh’s funeral and hit them with batons, the White House called the scene “deeply disturbing.” On Friday, 57 Democrats in the US House of Representatives called on the State Department and FBI to investigate the killing.

Early this month, Washington decried Israeli plans to advance nearly 4,000 housing units in West Bank settlements.

“We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter. “Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”

The White House announced Biden’s planned visit to Israel on April 24 following a phone call with Bennett. Biden last visited the country as vice president in 2016. Bennett met with Biden at the White House in August.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with top US officials in Washington last week for talks centered on the Iranian nuclear threat.

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