With Obama out of town, Netanyahu might skip AIPAC conference
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With Obama out of town, Netanyahu might skip AIPAC conference

President’s historic Cuba trip, Biden’s arrival in Israel next week, and a desire to stay out of US electioneering could keep PM in Jerusalem

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2015 Policy Conference, March 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2015 Policy Conference, March 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might skip the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference later this month given that US President Barack Obama will be out of the country at the time.

AIPAC’s Policy Conference kicks off on Sunday, March 20, and lasts until Tuesday, March 22. Obama is embarking on a historic trip to Cuba — the first by an American president since 1928 — on March 21. After his visit in Havana, Obama will travel to Argentina, returning to the US only on March 25.

Initially, Netanyahu planned to attend the powerful pro-Israel’s lobby flagship event in person, but since a meeting with the president will be difficult to arrange, he might decide to cancel his trip altogether, according to sources familiar with the issue. However, efforts are underway to schedule a meeting before the president takes off for Havana, these sources said.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday declined to comment on Netanyahu’s travel plans.

An AIPAC representative told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu has indicated a desire to attend the conference but that his appearance has not been confirmed.

If Netanyahu does not travel to DC for the AIPAC conference, he is likely to address it via live video conference, as he did in 2009 and 2013.

Obama and Netanyahu last met in the White House on November 9, 2015, in what the prime minister described as one of the best meetings they’ve had to date.

One of key issues discussed then was the planned renewal of the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, which regulates American military assistance to Israel.

Israel currently receives about $3 billion in military aid per year, but reportedly seeks about $5 billion.

President Barack Obama (right) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, November 9, 2015. The president and prime minister sought to mend their fractured relationship during their meeting, the first time they have talked face-to-face in more than a year. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, November 9, 2015. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

But besides Obama’s unavailability, there are other reasons that would seem to speak for Netanyahu choosing to stay home. For one, US Vice President Joe Biden will arrive in Israel for a two-day visit on March 8, making a meeting with Obama less pressing.

Netanyahu might also want to avoid being in the awkward position of having to meet with some presidential contenders while ignoring others.

If, for instances, he ran into a leading contender on the sidelines of the AIPAC conference, the candidate could publicize the meeting and utilize it as a tacit endorsement.

In the 2012 election, Netanyahu was accused of having favored Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who visited Israel during the campaign, over the incumbent Obama.

In March 2015, Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu in Washington, citing the proximity to Israeli elections, though it was widely regarded as a sign of the tensions between the two leaders, after Netanyahu spoke in Congress against the Iran deal.

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