As Israel gears up for a fifth round of elections in three years, the White House is still preparing President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the politically unstable country.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides confirmed to the Jerusalem Post on Monday that Biden’s visit will go ahead as planned, despite the collapse of the Bennett-Lapid coalition.
“He is coming,” Nides said. “As we have said, he is coming for the Israeli people.”
The ambassador told Ynet news that this will be Biden’s tenth visit overall to Israel, but first as president. “He loves the country and understand the sensibilities,” Nides added.
In addition, the U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said: "We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any one government. The president looks forward to the visit next month."
Biden is expected to visit Israel on July 13-14, during which he will meet with the country’s leadership. He will be welcomed by Yair Lapid, who will soon become interim prime minister and lead the government through the transitional period ahead of the elections until a new coalition is formed.
Lapid, who currently serves as foreign minister and alternate-prime minister, announced – along with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday – their decision to dissolve the Knesset, given the coalition’s inability to pass critical legislation.
"A year ago we started the process of rebuilding, and now we're carrying it on together," Lapid said. "What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity and not let dark forces tear us apart from within. We must remind ourselves that we love one another, love our country and that only together will we prevail."
Lapid’s reference of “dark forces” drew much criticism from the Israeli right, with TV pundits and lawmakers slamming him for speaking about “unity” while delegitimizing his political rivals and their supporters.
Last week, Lapid said he was certain that Biden will arrive in Israel as scheduled, regardless of the political situation.
“The president will be here, no matter what,” he said. “The president’s relationship with Israel is way more important, significant and long-lasting than any political event. The U.S. is our greatest ally and the most important partnership and friendship we have.”
According to the White House’s itinerary for the visit, Biden will hold meetings with both the Israeli premier and President Isaac Herzog. It is unclear whether his schedule will change to include additional meetings with other political leaders, such as Bennett and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
When asked by Ynet news whether Biden will meet specifically with Netanyahu during his time in the country, Nides replied: “President Biden is a professional, and therefore I promise that his visit will be perfect. We will work according to the appropriate protocol.”
The timing of Biden’s visit poses a challenge to the White House. On one hand, the administration would not want to be seen as intervening in Israel’s internal politics. On the other hand, postponing the visit yet again after months of uncertainty, rumors and deliberations – more so canceling it – would be regarded domestically as a failure to carry out foreign policy decisively and set a clear tone for how the administration views the U.S. role in the region.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro suggested the following analysis in a tweet: “Impending election will have little impact on the substance of Biden’s visit. He’ll still focus on promoting Israel’s integration in the region (Abe Accords), US-Israel security cooperation, improving atmosphere with Pals, preparing for next phase (deal or no deal) on Iran.”
Biden’s second stop on his trip will be Bethlehem in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The president will conclude his tour of the region in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he is expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On Monday, Netanyahu kicked off his election campaign, following the collapse of the Bennett-Lapid government. Speaking to reporters, Netanyahu said that, if elected, he is determined to enlarge the “circle of peace” with Arab states. He hinted that there is good reason to believe that another peace opportunity is just around the corner.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.