U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Much has been written about the warm personal relationship between the two friends, ex-governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. Today it has become clear that the two are more than just friends. Romney apparently accepts instructions from Netanyahu who succeeded in getting him to cancel a scheduled and meticulously planned meeting with MK Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the Labor party.

Here is how things developed: A month ago, when Yacimovich was still the leader of the opposition, Dan Senor, Romney's key foreign policy adviser, approached Labor Knesset faction head Yitzhak (Buzi) Herzog with a request, in Romney's name, to meet the then-head of the Israeli opposition during his scheduled Israeli visit. A meeting with the opposition leader is also required as a matter of protocol; when then-senator Barack Obama visited Israel on the eve of the 2008 U.S. elections, he met with Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two bureaus, Romney's and Yacimovich's, began coordinating the meeting, where and how long it would be along with a joint statement to the press. But a week ago, after Kadima head MK Shaul Mofaz left the government, Yacimovich ceased to be opposition leader. Herzog took the initiative and informed the Romney staff of the change in Yacimovich's status, and requested that the meeting be cancelled.

Romney's staff would have none of it. They told Herzog that they were au courant with happenings on the Israeli political scene, knew that Mofaz was now opposition leader (Romney will also meet with him), and insisted on holding the Yacimovich meeting as planned.

Preparations and coordination continued energetically last week through last night and even this morning. But in the last few days a problem came up in Yacimovich's schedule for unexpected personal reasons. Herzog checked again with Romney's staff to make sure that the meeting was still scheduled, and said that Yacimovich might be a little late arriving, for personal reasons. The answer was affirmative, loud and clear.

The meeting was due to take place today, at 1:30 P.M., at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. There were still contacts this morning between Romney's media staff and Tal Alexandrovitch Segev, Yacimovich's media adviser. Yacimovich and Herzog, who was due to accompany her, prepared themselves to meet the man who might, in a matter of months, be elected president of the United States.

And then Romney went into a meeting with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem. Minutes before the meeting, the candidate's staff contacted Herzog to inform him that the meeting had regrettably been cancelled, “for reasons of protocol.” Herzog and Yacimovich have no doubts: Netanyahu, or his people, didn't approve of the Yacimovich meeting and pressured Romney to cancel it – and succeeded.

Herzog was dumbfounded to hear of the cancellation on two hours' notice. He said that Romney was “intentionally misguided by political elements that were unsettled by the steady strengthening of Yacimovich and her transformation into the only alternative to the prime minister.” Circles close to Yacimovich said it clearly: “This is the crude hand of Netanyahu and his people against the background of the disagreement between him and Yacimovich over the economic measures his government is about to adopt.”

Netanyahu media adviser Liran Dan declined to comment on charges that the prime minister's staff was responsible for the cancellation, saying that the Foreign Ministry was responsible for coordinating Romney's Israeli visit.