Pompeo is expected to meet with Netanyahu and Speaker of the Knesset Benny Gantz during his one day stop in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said Pompeo is “traveling at the invitation of the Israeli Government.”
It is Pompeo’s second trip abroad since the force of the outbreak hit the United States, after a brief trip in March that included stops in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Doha, Qatar. As Schenker noted, “Israel is actually…doing very well at containing the virus,” with less than 300 deaths as of Tuesday. The US, by contrast, has topped 80,000 deaths.
According to the deputy chief medical officer for operations in the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services, a number of precautions intended to stop the spread of the virus will be taken on the trip.
“As both myself and the physician to the Secretary look at this trip, we’ve been able to develop a regimen of risk mitigation steps that we feel — it creates a safe environment for both the Secretary and the traveling party through close coordination with the embassy in Jerusalem as well as our Israeli counterparts,” Dr. William Walters told reporters last week.
Members of Pompeo’s traveling party were to be tested for Covid-19 in the days prior to the trip, Walters said, and no unknown individuals will be allowed within six feet of the secretary of state.
“Masks will be used in accordance with CDC recommendations,” Walters said. Pompeo was not wearing a mask or face covering when he boarded his plane at Joint Base Andrews.
“This is a tightly controlled movement in a highly screened environment that we feel is very, very safe,” Walters said, adding there were no plans for Pompeo to quarantine.
Schenker said last week that the trip coinciding with the formation of the new government was “fortuitous,” but noted “this was something that was in the works before we learned of the date of the government formation.”
The top diplomat for Near Eastern Affairs told reporters that Pompeo would discuss a range of topics, including Iran, but repeatedly dodged questions about the matter of West Bank annexation. Netanyahu said in a speech late last month that he was “confident” he could annex occupied territory in the West Bank — an area that is claimed by the Palestinians — with support of the US. His government agreement with Gantz foresees Israeli sovereignty being applied over parts of the territory from July 1, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told an Israeli newspaper recently Washington was “ready to recognize annexation within weeks.” Such a move is opposed by much of the international community and threatens to foment further unrest in the region.
“The US position hasn’t changed,” Schenker said. “We continue to pursue the path that the President set out in January when presenting the US vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and we look forward to direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. As for borders or annexation, or whatever is on that front, I would say that I don’t want to talk about specifics here because we have a US-Israeli mapping committee that is at work and I don’t want to prejudice that.”
CNN’s Amir Tal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.