Will President Joe Biden go ahead with his planned visit to Israel at the end of June?
This was on the mind of senior diplomatic officials in Israel on Thursday, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition was dealt a serious blow with Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi quitting the coalition.
In a letter to Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Zoabi wrote that she no longer saw herself as part of the coalition. She also announced that she would not accept her appointment as Israel’s next consul general in Shanghai.
There is little doubt within the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office that if the Knesset is dissolved in the coming weeks and Israel heads to another election – Likud plans to bring a bill to dissolve the Knesset to a vote on Wednesday – Biden will not come. US presidents have traditionally stayed away from Israel when the country is in an election period.
The president had planned to visit Israel, for the first time since taking up the office, at the end of June as he traveled to Europe for a meeting of the G7. His visit was already stirring controversy in Israel. Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post revealed that the president planned to visit Al Makassed Hospital on the Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem.
The visit to east Jerusalem is seen as highly problematic within the government for two reasons: first, there is the ongoing violence and tension in Jerusalem that the government is working to quell amid fears that a Biden visit could escalate the situation; and second, because the president plans to visit east Jerusalem without any Israeli officials.
This is being viewed as a deliberate step not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem and – at least partially – to roll back former US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
It is also being viewed in Israel as an attempt by Biden to deliver a win to the Palestinians after he backtracked on the opening of a consulate that would work with the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli capital.
Senior diplomatic officials have held talks in recent days with their American counterparts in an attempt to work out a compromise regarding the visit to east Jerusalem.