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Resuming travel, Pompeo to rally behind Israel coalition government

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel in a show of support for the new coalition government, resuming travel after a coronavirus suspension, the State Department announced Friday.

The top US diplomat and staunch supporter of Israel will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival turned partner Benny Gantz in Jerusalem on May 13, the day the government is expected to be sworn in.

The trip comes as President Donald Trump’s administration gives its blessing to Netanyahu’s plans to annex much of the occupied West Bank, despite warnings from the Palestinians that the move will kill the prospects of a long-term peace agreement.

Pompeo will “discuss the US and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

“The US commitment to Israel has never been stronger than under President Trump’s leadership,” she said.

David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said that Pompeo was travelling at the invitation of the Israeli government.

“Israel is fortunate to have such strong and experienced leadership during a challenging time,” he told reporters.

He also praised Israel’s decisive response to COVID-19, saying it was “doing much better than a lot of countries in mitigating the threat.”

Resumption of travel
Pompeo becomes one of the first major officials around the world to resume travel amid a gradual reopening following the coronavirus lockdown.

He last traveled internationally on March 23 for a one-day trip to Afghanistan and Qatar in which he upbraided leaders in Kabul for their infighting and met Taliban leaders on a deal to withdraw US troops.

Pompeo, asked about his Jerusalem trip on Wednesday after it was reported by Israeli media, said he was “hoping to get back out and be on the ground” after the coronavirus restrictions.

“It’ll start off smaller, but we’re hoping to get back at it, just like we’re hoping that we can get the economy back open not only here in the United States but all across the world as well,” Pompeo told reporters.

Trump in January unveiled a long-awaited Middle East plan in which he endorsed Israel’s annexation of areas around Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, which are considered illegal by the rest of the world.

In turn, the Palestinians will have the right to an independent but demilitarized state as well as promises of major investment.

Netanyahu hailed the plan as a historic opportunity. In a coalition agreement with Gantz, the new government can decide to go ahead with annexation starting in July but must consult with the United States — which has indicated it has no objections.

Gantz, who faced Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in three inconclusive elections, will take over after 18 months as part of the deal.


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