Romney in Israel after rough start to foreign tour

Apparent GOP presidential candidate to meet with Netanyahu, Peres and Fayyad as well as hold fund-raiser during brief visit.

Romney and wife exit plane in Israel 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Romney and wife exit plane in Israel 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
US presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrived in Israel on Saturday night on the second leg of a three-country tour that began in London, where he badly annoyed his hosts by questioning whether the city was ready for the Olympics.
The tour to England, Israel and Poland is largely meant to build up the foreign policy credentials of the candidate, who has served one term as governor of Massachusetts and has little foreign policy experience.
While in Britain, Romney said in an interview with NBC that London’s preparations for the games were “disconcerting.”
This led to disparaging counter-remarks about him by Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, and a flood of media criticism.
Romney’s visit to Israel – his fourth – is widely considered an effort to woo pro-Israel voters in the US, both Jews and Evangelical Christians, many of whom are discontent with the Middle East policies of President Barack Obama.
Obama, as well as Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, both visited Israel in July of that year just a few months before the elections.
One thing Romney is sure to underline – in an effort to contrast himself with Obama – is his cordial ties with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Sunday morning and again later in the day after the Tisha Be’av fast when he and his wife, Ann, will dine at the Prime Minister’s Residence with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
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In between those two meetings Romney will also meet with President Shimon Peres, Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
He is also scheduled to give a foreign policy address during the late afternoon in Jerusalem, with a pooled press covering the event. Adding to the sense that Israel is a background prop for the campaign is the fact that Romney will also sit for an ABC interview from Israel.
Netanyahu and Romney are not scheduled to hold any significant joint public appearances, with the prime minister very keen on not being perceived in any way as intervening in the US elections.
The media will be limited to a photo-op before their Sunday morning meeting.
Over the past few months, the prime minister has downplayed the perception that emerged following a New York Times article in April that the two men were close friends. The article, which to some read as a warning to readers that Romney was somehow “in Netanyahu’s pocket,” characterized their ties as a “warm relationship, little known to outsiders.”
Netanyahu immediately poured cold water on that depiction and in an April interview with CNN said that after working at the same consulting firm with Romney in Boston 35 years ago he did not meet him again until many years later when he was finance minister and Romney was governor of Massachusetts.
Asked whether Romney was his friend and whether he “likes him,” Netanyahu replied, “Well, look, here’s an answer that will – should satisfy you. I respect Mitt Romney as I respect Barack Obama, the president of the United States. And that’s the end of the ranking and the questions that you will undoubtedly try again and again to draw me into.”
Netanyahu also refused to be pulled into the issue of his relationship with Romney last Sunday during interviews on two US networks.
Romney is slated to leave for Poland at about noon on Monday.
Before taking off, he is scheduled to host a fund-raiser at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Monday morning. The event was moved from Sunday evening to Monday morning so as not to conflict with Tisha Be’av. The cost to attend the event, where Romney is expected to appear for 45 minutes, is $50,000 a couple.