Netanyahu not meeting longtime ally Mitt Romney on his visit to Israel

Senior Republican has drawn Trump’s ire for openly criticizing his White House; US lawmakers also visiting PA and Jordan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem. July 29, 2012. (photo credit:  Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem. July 29, 2012. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be meeting with Utah Senator Mitt Romney and a senior Democratic lawmaker during their visit to Israel this week.

The Times of Israel has learned that no meeting has been scheduled between the prime minister and Romney, or with Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A statement from Romney’s office said the lawmakers were touring Israel and Jordan this week for talks with officials aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. The statement added it was “critical that we maintain and strengthen our alliances with key partners in the region.”

Romney and Murphy were also scheduled to visit the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority officials.

Netanyahu has been spending part of this week’s Passover holiday on vacation in northern Israel.

The US embassy in Israel did not announce Romney and Murphy’s trip, or mention it on its website or social media platforms.

Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Netanyahu and Romney have shared what the New York Times described as a “warm friendship” for over 40 years. The two met in 1976 while working at the same corporate consulting firm in Boston.

The prime minister openly supported Romney during his presidential bid in 2012, and more recently, the Utah Republican staunchly backed Netanyahu’s efforts to block the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

President-elect Donald Trump gives the thumbs-up as Mitt Romney leaves Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Romney, who in 2016 vied with Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, is among the few prominent Republicans to openly criticize Trump, often drawing the president’s ire.

On Friday, Romney tweeted that he was “sickened” and “appalled” by what Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed about Trump and his aides, while most Republicans declined to comment on the explosive report.

Mueller described Trump and aides as habitually lying about their actions and running roughshod over principles of law as they battled the investigation.

“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders” of the United States, Romney said.

On Saturday, Trump hit back via Twitter, saying that if Romney “spent the same energy fighting Barack Obama as he does fighting Donald Trump, he could have won the race (maybe)!”

Netanyahu, a firm ally of Trump, has met with other visiting Republican lawmakers in recent months, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, whom he took on a tour of Israel’s northern border.

US Senator Lindsey Graham and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tour the Golan Heights on March 11, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu’s re-election campaign heavily featured Trump’s image and pro-Israel actions as endorsements for the prime minister. In the run-up to the April 9 vote, Netanyahu hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, visited Trump in the White House, and received American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan shortly before the election was seen as a boost to Netanyahu’s campaign.

Netanyahu, who has been touring northern Israel with his family during this week’s Passover holiday, announced Tuesday that his next government will name a town in the Golan Heights after Trump in honor of the decision.

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