Following a path tread by many a US presidential hopeful, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is making her first visit to Israel. Today, she toured the Old City of Jerusalem wearing a Star of David necklace before arriving at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence for a private dinner.
Though the visit is being described as private, Ms. Palin's three-day stop on the way home from India could both burnish her thin foreign policy credentials and curry favor with Jewish and evangelical constituencies back home.
After a rocky two years with President Barack Obama's administration, Palin's visit is an opportunity for Netanyahu to size up another prospective Republican candidate for president who is enthusiastically pro-Israel. Last month, the Israeli Prime Minister met with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"It’s a smart move with anyone who potentially could become a president or vice president,’’ says Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "The most important international relationship Israel has is with the United States. You would like to have the best possible connection.’’
Israel's right reaches out to Republicans
During the 2008 campaign, Israel was one of the few countries outside the US where public opinion was decidedly in favor of the Republican party ticket of Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Palin. Had they been elected, the two were expected to maintain former President George W. Bush’s staunchly pro-Israel foreign policy.
In the first two years of Obama's tenure, diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and the US have been tense because of disagreements over the peace process with the Palestinians.
That makes prospective Republican challengers in 2012 even more attractive to leaders of Israel’s ideological right wing. During a tour of Israel a month and a half ago, Mr. Huckabee visited Jewish settlements in the West Bank with the figures from the Yesha Council, the umbrella leadership of the settlers. Yesterday, Palin toured the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City with parliament member Danny Danon, a staunch advocate of the settlers.
"We have a lot of common ground,’’ said Mr. Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. "It is more important to have more Republican leaders coming to Israel and learning the issues with their own eyes. Leaders like them who support Israel unconditionally make for a great asset. We should support this relationship."
But despite her status as a former Republican vice presidential nominee, Israel’s press has in the past has portrayed her as unsuitable to be president and poked fun at her, says Professor Diskin, the political scientist.
He said that Israeli government officials have a mixed record anticipating US elections and the policies of presidents: In 1992, Israeli officials expected Democratic candidate Bill Clinton to lose, and in 2000 feared that George W. Bush’s victory would bring in a president more critical of Israeli policy than President Clinton.
Palin is expected to visit Jewish and Christian holy sites before leaving Israel for the US and to return soon for a more formal visit.