Obama won’t scrap Israel trip: ‘We’re going,’ aide says

Olivier Knox

President Barack Obama will go ahead with his planned trip to Israel later this month whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wrapped up the difficult work of cobbling together a coalition government, the White House said 0n Friday.

“We’re going,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

Rumors had been flying about the possibility that Obama could postpone his first visit to Israel since taking office because of Netanyahu’s domestic political travails. The White House has not announced dates for the trip, but Israeli media are reporting that the president will arrive there on March 20.

Asked whether the president would seek to influence the formation of Israel’s government, Earnest replied, “That’s not something that the president would interfere with.”

But Obama, who will not be arriving with a specific plan for relaunching stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, aims to reassure Israel’s people that America’s got their back. At a time of escalating tensions with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, Obama will “demonstrate his support for Israel and his commitment to their security,” Earnest said.

“The region, Israel’s neighborhood if you will, is undergoing a pretty severe transition, and there’s crisis,” Earnest said, referring to the aftermath of the Arab spring uprisings and the bloodshed in Syria. “And it’s important for the people of Israel to understand that the American people stand with them.”

“We’re going to be there to protect them and to work with them to ensure their security,” Earnest added.

Obama is also scheduled to go to the chief Palestinian city of Ramallah and to Jordan.

Speculation that Obama might put off the trip arose after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a Feb. 19 briefing that Netanyahu’s difficulties were a major factor in Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to skip Israel during his recent 'round-the-world trip.

“Given the fact that the government coalition negotiations in Israel are still under way, the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah,” she said.