WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel next week, as part of his first foreign trip in more than a month, the State Department confirmed on Friday. Pompeo will come to Israel amidst growing talk about potential Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank, but the issue of annexation was not mentioned in the official statement regarding his travel.
According to the statement, Pompeo will meet in Jerusalem with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz, who are expected to officially finalize next week the formation of a joint unity government. The State Department announced that among the issues to be discussed during the visit will be the two countries' response to the coronavirus crisis and regional issues of interest to both the United States and Israel.
It will be the first international trip in weeks for the secretary of state, who has not left the U.S. since late March in light of the pandemic. Pompeo will be the first senior U.S. official to visit Israel since Netanyahu and Gantz first announced their intention to form a government together and end the past year's cycle of repeated inconclusive elections.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said in an interview with the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom that the Trump administration could recognize Israeli annexation of all the settlements within weeks. He explained that Israel will be asked to accept Trump’s Middle East plan, which was presented in January, and to agree to negotiate with the Palestinians. It’s not clear, however, what exactly will be left to negotiate over if Israel decides annex all the settlements and wins American approval for the move.