Exclusive Davos Confab Offers Netanyahu a Fresh Chance for Farce

He missed Mandela's funeral, citing cost. Now Israel is sending the PM and entourage to one of the most expensive destinations in the world.

Mere weeks after the farce surrounding who would represent Israel at the memorial service of former South African President Nelson Mandela, another ridiculous situation is developing over the Israeli delegation to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos, which opens on January 22.

Senior Israeli officials are apparently less eager to pass on the exclusive annual conference that takes place in the luxury Swiss ski resort. No fewer than four top Israeli dignitaries – President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – will be flying to Davos, more than any other participating country.

Though Netanyahu begged off traveling to South Africa by citing the high cost of the trip, transporting four senior officials and their entourages and security details will cost a small fortune, given that Davos is one of the most expensive destinations in the world. But beyond the financial aspect, the event could potentially provide some serious diplomatic embarrassments.

A passionate struggle has developed between the President’s Residence and the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the trip. On the one hand, Peres has been a regular guest at Davos for 15 years. On the other, Netanyahu claims he had been invited by the forum heads last May.

Although Netanyahu’s office rarely makes official statements about his schedule far in advance, last week – a month before the event – his bureau announced the premier’s plan to attend.

It’s possible that Netanyahu wanted to preempt Peres’ own announcement and establish a fact on the ground.

Some of the fights are about the addresses to be given and panels that each of the senior officials will attend. Only one Israeli representative can address a plenary event. In his announcement, Netanyahu said he planned to speak “at a special plenary session devoted to the Israeli economy.”

If that’s the case, then both Peres and Lapid – who presumably will want to say a word or two about the Israeli economy – will be forced to do so at one of the less-prestigious panel discussions.

Arguments are also expected regarding the schedule of meetings for each of the four officials. Since most of the countries attending will be sending only one ranking representative, it’s not clear with which of the Israelis he or she will meet. For example, Peres, Netanyahu and Livni will certainly all want to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who is attending the event.

The World Economic Forum leaders understand the sensitivities and tensions, and are trying to resolve them. A senior forum representative is expected in Jerusalem on Sunday and he will meet with representatives of all four Israeli attendees to try to mediate between their respective agendas, desires and egos.

Peres’ office declined to comment. The Prime Minister’s Office said, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received an invitation in May from the conference chairman to address the conference, and he is expected to address the general plenum of the conference to encourage investment in the Israeli economy.”