Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Israel next week to meet with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and parliamentary Speaker Benny Gantz, the State Department said Friday, Anadolu reports.
Pompeo’s May 13 visit will be his first trip abroad since travel restrictions were imposed worldwide, including in the US and Israel, to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The visit will take place in the wake of a governance deal between the Israeli leaders reached last month that ended over a year of repeat elections that failed to produce a new government.
While in Israel, the top US diplomat will address “US and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Her statement did not make mention of Israel’s looming annexation of the West Bank in Palestine, which Netanyahu and Gantz agreed as part of their political settlement would take place July 1. But Ortagus said “the US commitment to Israel has never been stronger than under President Trump’s leadership.”
“The United States and Israel will face threats to the security and prosperity of our peoples together. In challenging times, we stand by our friends, and our friends stand by us,” she said.
Pompeo earlier said the West Bank’s annexation is up to Israel’s leaders. But in the strongest remarks yet, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Wednesday the US is ready to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty in the occupied West Bank within weeks.
In an interview with Israel Hayom newspaper on the 2nd anniversary of moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Friedman said prior steps need to be completed first before the recognition.
“Washington does not plan to impose any new conditions for the move,” he said.
Freidman said the US will recognize the Israeli sovereignty after steps are taken, including the completion of mapping, halting Israeli settlements construction in Area C — which is excluded from the annexation — and when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians according to the US peace plan, a matter Netanyahu has already agreed to.
“It’s not the US that is declaring sovereignty but the Israeli government. Once it does, the US is ready to recognize it,” he said.