Netanyahu said to nix planned trip to Tokyo amid political stalemate

PM’s office had not confirmed trip, but diplomats were gearing for premier to attend ceremonies honoring Japan’s emperor day before deadline to form coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on May 2, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on May 2, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly canceled a planned trip to Tokyo on Tuesday evening, amid the ongoing political stalemate in Jerusalem that has left him unable to form a governing coalition.

The Prime Minister’s Office had never confirmed the trip, but Hebrew-language reports said the Foreign Ministry along with Israel’s embassy in Tokyo had both been preparing for the premier’s visit.

Netanyahu had been set to leave for Tokyo on Saturday night in order to attend the October 22 enthronement of Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito. His aides did not confirm the trip, but did not deny that he was considering it. According to earlier reports, Netanyahu was also set to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his stay.

Many world leaders are confirmed to attend the enthronement, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and hundreds of other dignitaries from across the globe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement in the Knesset on September 15, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement comes at a tense time in Israeli politics, as Netanyahu’s deadline for trying to form a governing coalition will elapse on October 24. At that point, President Reuven Rivlin may grant Netanyahu a 14-day extension, though this is seen as unlikely due to his low chances of success.

Rather, Rivlin is expected to task Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz with trying to cobble together a coalition. Three weeks ago, Netanyahu was granted the opportunity to build a government and vowed to allow the president to grant it to another candidate if he failed to do so.

Netanyahu had been scheduled to visit Japan in late July, but canceled the visit on short notice.

The Japanese prime minister had agreed to host the Israeli leader on July 29, but 10 days before his arrival in Tokyo Netanyahu suddenly scrapped the visit, apparently due to domestic political reasons, ahead of the September 17 Knesset election. Tokyo was said to be livid about the sudden cancellation of a visit Netanyahu himself had requested. The premier’s office was quoted saying the visit wasn’t canceled but merely postponed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-R) and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C-L) during a meeting with Japanese businessmen at the PM’s office in Jerusalem on May 2, 2018. (AFP/Abir SULTAN)

In early September, Netanyahu also called off a planned trip to India, less than a week before he was supposed to land in New Delhi for a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he had asked for.

Emperor Naruhito, 59, officially acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, after his 85-year-old father Akihito abdicated due to poor health. Japan, the world’s oldest monarchy, is the only country whose head of state carries the title emperor.

His October 22 enthronement at Tokyo’s Seiden (State Hall) will be accompanied by a series of ceremonies, including an “imperial procession” during which the new emperor and his wife will greet well-wishers, and “court banquets” where the pair will receive guests for several days in their residence.

On October 23, Prime Minister Abe will host a banquet in Tokyo for foreign dignitaries.

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