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Pompeo Arrives in Israel to Push Mideast Ties

2020-08-24 15:20:08

JERUSALEM — The backdrop for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned speech to the Republican National Convention promised to be spectacular: sweeping views of Jerusalem’s Old City, with the domes and spires of its holy sites.

But even before his plane touched down in Israel on Monday, Mr. Pompeo was being criticized there and in the United States for breaking a longstanding taboo against mixing diplomacy and partisan politics.

For President Trump, and particularly his evangelical Christian supporters, few locations have the resonance of the holy but fiercely contested city of Jerusalem.

“Looking forward to sharing with you how my family is more SAFE and more SECURE because of President Trump,” Mr. Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “See you all on Tuesday night!” He ended the post with a U.S. flag emoji.

Neither of them addressed the brewing political dispute about Mr. Pompeo’s plan to record a video address from a rooftop location in Jerusalem, possibly the King David Hotel, to be shown later at the Republican convention.

Daniel B. Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, said that coming to the region to build on the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal and to try to add momentum to that process made perfect sense. But he said timing a visit to Jerusalem to address the Republican convention from there was “cheap, transparent politics of the lowest order.”

“It violates a core principle which is drilled into every foreign service officer from the first day of their training: that the State Department needs to conduct itself overseas above American politics,” Mr. Shapiro said.

“It may score some points with evangelical voters, and I suspect that’s what it’s designed to do,” he added.

“But it’s going to hurt Trump with Jewish voters who actually care about keeping Israel as a bipartisan issue,” Mr. Shapiro said, “and preventing it from being used as a partisan political football.”

Mr. Pompeo’s four-day tour includes planned stops in the United Arab Emirates and in Sudan and Bahrain, two other countries that have shown signs of warming ties with Israel.

The State Department said in a statement that he would meet in Sudan with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel Fattah el-Burhan, the country’s top general, to discuss continued American support for the civilian-led transitional government and to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship.”

“The U.S. commitment to peace, security, and stability in Israel, Sudan, and among Gulf countries has never been stronger than under President Trump’s leadership,” the statement read.

The deal with the United Arab Emirates raised some hackles in Israel with the revelation that the Trump administration is pushing sales of F-35 stealth fighters and other advanced weapons to the Gulf state, despite worries in Israel that such sales would weaken the nation’s strong military advantage in the Middle East. Mr. Netanyahu’s critics have questioned his assertions that he did not tacitly green-light the sales.

Mr. Pompeo said in Jerusalem that the administration would “continue to review that process,” but in a way that preserves the United States commitment to maintain Israel’s military edge. He noted the Americans’ “20-plus-years security relationship with the United Arab Emirates as well, where we have provided them with technical assistance and military assistance” to help them defend against threats from Iran.

Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Netanyahu said he did not “know of any arms deal that has been agreed upon. It may be contemplated. Our position hasn’t changed,” he added, referring to his stated opposition to advanced weapons sales to Arab countries.

Mr. Pompeo also met in Jerusalem with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both of the centrist Blue and White party.

The intersection of American and Israeli politics can be fraught for both sides, and Mr. Pompeo’s address to the Republican convention could deal another blow to international relations, further fraying the bipartisan support that Israel has long considered one of its top strategic assets.

Michael B. Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington who also served as a deputy minister under Mr. Netanyahu, said that if Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate, won in November, “it’ll make the task all that more difficult to get us back to a bipartisan place.”


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