Hilary Leila Krieger reports in the Jerusalem Post that new Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably won’t be coming to the AIPAC policy conference early next month, and thus won’t be meeting with President Obama in Washington.
There has been talk in the Israeli press that Obama was going to avoid Netanyahu when he came to D.C. for the May 3-5 event, but the Post reports that the new prime minister had never confirmed he would be visiting the nation’s capital at that time:
Israeli government sources now say that he will be going to Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama at the end of his policy review, a process that isn’t due to be concluded until later in May.
Though the conference, which annually gathers thousands of pro-Israel activists and features leading American and Israeli politicians, would have been a fitting time for his inaugural visit, the delays he faced in forming his coalition this spring have set back the transition process and policy planning.
If Netanyahu doesn’t come to the conference, scheduled for May 3-5, he could still address the gathering from Israel via satellite, as former prime minister Ehud Olmert did.
It remains an open question, however, which Israeli political figure would take his place at the event. According to Beit Hanassi, President Shimon Peres has also been invited and could attend whether or not Netanyahu goes, a decision he will be coordinating with the Prime Minister’s Office next week.
Sources close to AIPAC said it made sense for Peres to come if Netanyahu does not, but declined to comment further on who would be attending the conference.
Israeli sources indicated that it was unlikely Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would attend, though then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni came the year Olmert stayed behind in Israel and spoke via video link.
As for those anonymously sourced Israeli press reports about Obama not wanting for meet with Netanyahu:
There has been speculation in parts of the Israeli press that Obama himself wanted Netanyahu to hold off on his visit to avoid photo ops with the Israeli leader, but US observers dismissed this idea out of hand.
"Obama is looking forward to Bibi coming in early May," said former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk of the reports, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
He stressed that it was "totally inaccurate" to say that the new prime minister was unwelcome in Washington, and chalked the assertion up to Israeli "spin."
There have also been suggestions in the Israeli media that Obama is sending a message by hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah next week before Netanyahu.
Scott Lasensky, a Middle East expert with the US Institute of Peace, said the Abdullah visit was simply part of the long-established tradition whereby a new US president packs his first few months in office with meetings with key heads of state.
"Anyone who thinks there is a message in the sequencing is either paranoid or unfamiliar with Washington," he said, pointing out that these visits were usually "weeks if not months" in the making and that Israel had only recently formed its new government.