Will Trump host state dinner for PM a month before election?

Davos, Chad, DC: Despite elections, legal woes, Netanyahu plans diplomatic blitz

PM to fly abroad at least three times before Election Day; will also meet host of world leaders, including some who may announce moving embassies to Jerusalem

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara boarding a plane at Ben Gurion Airport before departing to Moscow, Russia, on July 11, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara boarding a plane at Ben Gurion Airport before departing to Moscow, Russia, on July 11, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In addition to handling his legal woes and the current election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has several high-profile diplomatic events in the coming weeks, including three trips abroad and the arrival of several important foreign dignitaries.

Some of the items on his schedule may play in his favor as he asks the Israeli electorate for a fifth term as prime minister — such as the renewal of diplomatic relations with a Muslim nation in Africa, or Latin American countries announcing their intention to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Netanyahu is planning a whirlwind visit to Davos, Switzerland, next week to attend the World Economic Forum. As opposed to previous years, the prime minister will likely not stay overnight, but merely deliver a speech — either on Tuesday or Wednesday — and meet with a few world leaders before heading back home.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are also set to attend. US President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has canceled his participation (but Netanyahu will likely meet him a few weeks later in Washington).

Netanyahu is also headed to N’Djamena to formally announce the renewal of diplomatic ties with Chad, a Muslim-majority country in north-central Africa.

After the surprising visit to Israel in November by Chad’s longtime ruler Idriss Déby, Netanyahu promised to fly to the country’s capital “soon” for the formal reestablishment of ties, which were severed in 1972.

Chad, a country of 15 million people, is located in a potentially strategically important place for Israel, as it could enable Israeli aircraft to shave off several hours en route to Latin America (though for this to happen Israel would also need to get overfly rights from Sudan, which does not appear imminent).

Either way, Netanyahu, who is also foreign and defense minister, can be sure to present the resumption of ties with a Muslim country as further proof of his often-made claim that under his stewardship Israeli diplomacy is reaching unprecedented heights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center March 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Closer to Election Day, in late March, Netanyahu is expected to fly to Washington to participate in AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference, where he can be sure of standing ovations by thousands of pro-Israel activists — a photo op other Israeli politicians can only dream of.

(AIPAC usually invites the Israeli prime minister and head of the opposition, who currently is Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich; she may transfer the privilege to her party’s leader, Avi Gabbay.)

In DC, Netanyahu will reportedly also be treated to a VIP visit to the White House, where he will not only get a meeting with Trump but possibly a state dinner with the accompanying pomp and circumstance.

The Ynet news site on Sunday reported that the White House wants to use the opportunity to express “presidential support” for Netanyahu’s reelection campaign.

Trump has only hosted one state dinner so far: for French President Emmanuel Macron. The last Israeli prime minister to be invited to such an affair was Yitzhak Rabin, who in 1994 was joined by Jordanian King Hussein to mark the countries’ brand-new peace accord.

The US administration has so far not commented on the report.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

At home, too, Netanyahu will be busy with some weighty diplomatic matters.

Early next week, he is hosting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Later this month, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and the president of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, are due in Jerusalem.

These visits are fairly standard, but there are some other, yet-unconfirmed VIP guests who could be bearers of good tidings for Israeli diplomacy.

Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, for instance, has said that he wants to visit Israel “by March,” according to Netanyahu.

During his visit to Brazil two weeks ago, Netanyahu quoted Bolsonaro as promising that the relocation of his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a matter of “when and not if.”

On the same trip, Netanyahu also met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who reportedly said he was willing to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem as well. According to Ynet, preparations for a visit by Hernandez to the capital are already underway.

Benjamin Netanyahu, third right, and Juan Orlando Hernandez, third left, meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, on January 1, 2019. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The Central American country has reportedly expressed interest in transferring its embassy from Rishon Lezion to Jerusalem in exchange for Israel upgrading its consulate in Honduras to an embassy, along with access to Israeli know-how on cyber-security, water and agriculture tech and law enforcement.

In mid-February, the US will hold an international anti-Iran conference in Warsaw. According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a “broad coalition of countries” will gather in the Polish capital to discuss ways to get the Islamic Republic “to behave more like a normal nation.”

While the meeting is meant for foreign ministers, and Netanyahu is expected to part with this post by the end of January, he is reportedly still considering attending.

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