This summer, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is planning to do exactly what candidate Barack Obama did in 2008: visit Israel. It will be, of course, in spite of what Obama did as president, visiting both Cairo and Ankara, but stopping short of visiting Jerusalem.
On Monday, the New York Times' Jodi Rudoren reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's senior advisor Ron Dermer confirmed that the Republican candidate will visit Israel this summer.
Romney is scheduled to meet Netanyahu, as well as other officials, including opposition leaders. He is also scheduled to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The trip, Rudoren reported, will last two days.
Romney's campaign spokesperson confirmed the trip, but declined to provide the exact dates.
News of the former Massachusetts governor's planned visit comes as several publications weighed recently on Romney's apparent lack of a coherent foreign policy platform - or that his foreign policy advisors being pushed to the margins of the campaign focused on the economy.
And as frequently happens during campaigns, these seemingly small sideline blunders drag the whole machine in a wrong direction, bringing attention precisely to the point the candidate wanted to downplay.
In March, Romney called Russia America's "number one geopolitical foe" (though he has not repeated it much since then). In June, addressing the annual briefing of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington via satellite, Romney said on Israel: "You could just look at the things [Obama] has done and do the opposite," prompting the Obama campaign to wonder whether he meant providing Israel with less military aid than Obama, not vetoing the UN Security Council anti-Israeli resolutions, or canceling sanctions against Iran.
On Iran, it isn't totally clear what Romney will do differently than Obama (except for, probably, toughening the message). This novel policy approach was described by a Romney aide in an interview with Haaretz thus: "After he’s elected, Iran will see there’s a new sheriff in town."
Romney likes to stress his personal friendship with Netanyahu, based on their work at the same company in Boston (although Netanyahu in a recent interview to "Vanity Fair" distanced himself a bit). Dermer is quoted as saying that Romney is "a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him. We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”
Talking of bipartisanship, it is interesting to see how happy Romney will be to greet current U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, who used to be the Obama administration official - and in his 2008 elections campaign, among his other responsibilities, was outreach to the Jewish community.
In response to the news of the impending visit, Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said, "Having hosted Gov. Romney on a previous visit to Israel in 2007, the RJC knows firsthand how strong his commitment is to the Jewish homeland and we are thrilled that he will reinforce that commitment at this important time."
"This upcoming visit to Israel illustrates once again the stark difference between Gov. Romney and Pres. Obama, who has yet to visit Israel during his term in office, despite having visited a number of nearby nations not friendly to Israel, including Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia."
Washington D.C.-based Jewish lobby J Street released a statement on Monday saying it was "very pleased" to hear of Romney's visit, which it said would "provide [him] with an important opportunity to see the challenges facing Israel and the region firsthand."
However, the group added that it was "very concerned by the tremendous amount of financial support flowing into the Romney campaign and into Super PACs supporting it from individuals like Sheldon Adelson and Irving Moskowitz who adamantly oppose a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
"Americans deserve to hear before the election from Governor Romney if his vision for American policy is in line with the bipartisan approach of the last several Presidents who sought a diplomatic resolution to the conflict or with the views of some of his most right-wing funders who have opposed such a resolution," said the group.
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