Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel on Wednesday to mark the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and energize the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan push, despite ongoing regional unease over the coronavirus.
Fears of a widening Mideast economic crisis largely overshadowed the single-day visit, which came amid Israel’s controversial preparations to annex dozens of Jewish settlements that have been established in the West Bank over the last several decades.
In a brief press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Pompeo vowed to continue efforts to achieve the landmark Middle East plan outlined by the Trump administration early this year, calling it a “vision for peace.”
“There remains work yet to do, and we need to make progress on that,” the secretary of state said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The six-hour visit was his fist overseas trip in nearly two months amid travel precautions that have limited U.S. diplomatic movements since the coronavirus global pandemic was announced.
Mr. Pompeo visited Afghanistan and Qatar in late March to try and keep peace talks alive between the Afghan government and Taliban.
All eyes were on him Wednesday as he disembarked from his plane at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport wearing a patriotic face mask with a red, white and blue design.
The trip marked the two-year anniversary of the formal relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move that sparked violent protests in the Palestinian territories and signaled U.S. government support for Israeli claims to the divided holy city as its capital.
During his remarks Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo said the embassy move was “pretty remarkable,” calling it important for America, Israel and “for democracies around the world.”
U.S. officials said he discussed a range of issues with Mr. Netanyahu, including ongoing efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and counter Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, as well as the steadfast U.S. commitment to Israel’s security.
Mr. Netanyahu called Mr. Pompeo’s visit a “testament to the strength of [the U.S.-Israel] alliance, to the strength of President Trump’s commitment to the state of Israel, and to the strength of your commitment to the state of Israel and our alliance as well.”
The visit coincided a delicate domestic political moment for the Israeli prime minister.
Weakened by adverse results in last year’s election, and unable to construct a government last fall, Mr. Netanyahu’s six-term tenure as prime minister was widely thought to be finished after he was charged in several corruption cases. He has denied any wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu announced that he has assembled enough support from lawmakers to form a government — a development expected to solidify his position as Israel’s leader after three recent elections led to inconclusive results.
Mr. Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, emboldened by the coronavirus pandemic, had earlier agreed to strike a power-sharing agreement that would allow both he and Mr. Netanyahu to serve 18-month terms as prime minister.
Mr. Netanyahu is expected to be sworn in Thursday, rounding out a turbulent year in Israeli politics, recent months of which have coincided the country’s struggle to contain the coronavirus.
With a population of 8.8 million, Israel has reported 16,548 cases of COVID-19, 264 deaths, and 12,232 recoveries.
• This article is base in part on wire service reports.