Presumptive Republican US presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s support for Israel will likely earn him a warm welcome from Israeli leaders when he visits today — and a frosty reception from Palestinians, who fear he would do little to advance their stalled statehood dreams.
Romney is visiting Israel as part of a three-nation foreign tour that includes Britain and Poland and is intended to boost his credentials to direct US national security and diplomacy as he campaigns to defeat US President Barack Obama in the November general election.
The visit to Israel comes at a time when its leaders are weighing a military attack on Iran, the neighboring regime in Syria is looking increasingly shaky and Mideast peace talks are going nowhere.
Romney, a longtime friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is expected to play up his critique of Obama’s posture toward the Jewish state and his handling of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.
Israeli political scientist Abraham Diskin said Romney could expect an “enthusiastic” reception, both because of his solid record of pro-Israel comments — and because he is not Obama.
“Romney has a very pro--Israel stance. He is very suspicious of the Arab world. [Israelis] are very suspicious of Obama,” Diskin said.
In an effort to upstage Romney a day before he landed in Israel, the White House announced it was signing legislation expanding military and civilian cooperation with Israel.
Romney hopes this showcase for his pro-Israel stance will help him to woo votes from among traditionally Democratic Jews and evangelical Christians who zealously defend Israeli government policy. Obama has not visited Israel since he became president.
However, the Gallup polling organization reported on Friday that Obama’s standing stood at 68 percent among Jews, while 25 percent favored Romney.
Romney has already stumbled in his first international swing as a presidential contender by suggesting that British officials might not be prepared to pull off a successful Olympics. In an interview with NBC News, he called London’s problems with games preparation “disconcerting” and the remark sparked sharp responses from Britain’s top officials.
In Israel, Romney is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
He will not meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Abbas aide Nimr Hamad said, though he will sit down with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem. Neither the Romney nor Abbas camps would explain why a meeting with Abbas was not on the agenda.
Romney’s relationship with the US-educated Netanyahu dates back decades, when in the 1970s they both briefly worked at Boston Consulting Group and the two men share conservative outlooks. Romney financial backer Sheldon Adelson finances a free Israeli newspaper that reflects Netanyahu’s views. Netanyahu has refused to endorse either presidential candidate, although his ties with Obama have been strained.