The House speaker's visit, which is scheduled to take place during the two-week congressional recess, will coincide with the end of controversial multi-lateral talks with Iran that aim to curb that country's ability to make a nuclear weapon. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republicans have been highly critical of the talks – with Speaker Boehner inviting Mr. Netanyahu to address Congress directly about the issue last month, without first consulting the White House.
Mr. Boehner “looks forward to visiting the country, discussing our shared priorities for peace and security in the region, and further strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel,” his spokesman, Kevin Smith said in a statement.
At first glance, Boehner's announcement of his travel plans "looks like a jab at the White House," the Associated Press writes, but the trip was planned before the Israeli elections, according to Mr. Smith.
The visit's announcement comes just days after Netanyahu, who was elected to a fourth term as prime minister this week, angered the Obama administration with pre-election rhetoric pundits say could derail a White House-supported Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Republicans have been critical of President Obama for the country’s deteriorating relationship with Israel.
“The partisan nature of the trip is hard to ignore as it further cements Republicans and Netanyahu as allies determined to sink an agreement between world powers and Tehran,” David Francis wrote for Foreign Policy.
This week, Netanyahu surprised the world when his Likud Party won a six-seat advantage in the Israeli Knesset, after pre-election polls had showed the party lagging behind. But many say the sudden swing in his favor was spurred by his last minute appeals to right-wing voters, including a statement that a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine was off the table.
While Netanyahu quickly backtracked on his statement the next day in an interview with NBC, Obama administration officials were visibly unhappy.
“President Obama waited nearly two full days before making a congratulatory phone call to Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday evening, as his administration was still seething over the Israeli leader’s pre-election comments,” The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, the White House said that Netanyahu’s post-election about face on the two-state solution had not changed the minds of administration officials that the US needs to rethink its approach toward the Israeli government, the Washington Times reported.
“White House press secretary Josh Earnest delivered a fresh rebuke of the Israeli leader along with a warning that the US is reconsidering use of its veto on the United Nations Security Council on behalf of Israel,” Bloomberg reported.
Congressional Republicans, on the contrary, remain big supporters of the Israeli prime minister and his party.
“Republicans tend to be strong supporters of Israel, and the feeling is mutual. Surveys in 2012 found that people in most other countries preferred President Obama to Mitt Romney, but in Israel, Romney led Obama, 57 to 22 percent,” wrote congressional expert and Monitor blogger Jack Pitney in a January Decoder Voices piece.
“It is fair to say, these days, there is a particularly close connection between the Republicans and the Likud,” wrote Aaron David Miller for the Daily Beast.
Boehner showed more enthusiasm for Netanyahu’s election victory than Obama, recording a personalized Facebook video congratulating the Israeli leader on the results.
“I look forward to our continuing strong relationship between Israel and the United States that has benefited both countries immensely,” he said in the video.
Officials in Washington Friday appeared careful not to ruffle feathers with inflammatory remarks about Boehner’s upcoming journey.
Press Secretary Earnest refrained from commenting on Boehner’s pending trip to Israel, saying that it is not unusual for members of Congress to travel to the country.
Meanwhile, Smith told Bloomberg that Boehner’s visit to Israel had been planned months before the Israeli elections. He did not confirm whether Boehner would meet with Netanyahu during the visit.