(Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
Mitt Romney, who arrived in Israel late on Saturday, is scheduled to meet top officials of Israel and Palestine, deliver a public speech and hold a major fundraiser. But will he also spell out his Middle East policy to distinguish himself from President Barack Obama, as expected?
The presumptive Republican presidential candidate arrived in Jerusalem on Saturday night, after attending the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, as part of a seven-day, three-nation overseas trip, including Britain and Poland.
The former Massachusetts governor will meet Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres as well as Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, among other top leaders on Sunday. He will also hold a major fundraiser on Monday.
His foreign trip – which appears to be aimed at portraying himself as a capable leader on the world stage, connecting with Jewish voters and raising funds – comes at a crucial time. Israeli leaders are contemplating military action against Iran, and violence and instability in neighboring Syria remain extremely high.
A day before Romney landed in Jerusalem, the Obama administration announced the signing of legislation expanding military and civilian cooperation with Israel – an apparent move to outshine the Republican candidate's Israel visit.
Romney has said he would reverse the Middle East policy of Obama, but is yet to specify in what terms his policy will differ from that of the current president, who is criticized by Republicans for not doing enough to back the American ally facing threats from Iran. Obama visited Israel only during his presidential campaign in 2008.
Romney is expected to show support for Israel when he delivers a public speech after meeting the country's officials on Sunday. But he may not be in a position to specify his Middle East policy, as that would require him to criticize Obama while overseas.
Dan Senor, a top foreign policy adviser to Romney, told reporters that Romney was not in Israel to criticize Obama. "Our approach is no surprises on either side," he said. "We are working very hard to make sure we don't do that. We don't want to criticize the president on foreign soil."
However, Senor said the GOP candidate would like to back Israel "in a very public way" by speaking about the values and agenda the two nations share on security issues. "The challenges and the threats to Israel are the challenges and threats to America, and the opportunities awaiting Israel are the opportunities awaiting America," he said.
Netanyahu, Romney's longtime friend, has not endorsed a U.S. presidential candidate, but he is expected to extend a warm reception to the Republican contender who is clearly pro-Israel.
Before arriving in Jerusalem, Romney told the Israeli daily Haaretz that Washington's commitments to Israel needed to be "as clear as humanly possible," keeping in mind the changes in the region. "When Israel feels less secure in the neighborhood, it should feel more secure of the commitment of the United States to its defense," Romney said.
At Monday's fundraiser, where Romney aims to raise over $1 million, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who supports Republican Jewish groups in the U.S., will be among the roughly 50 attendees. Donors at the event have been asked to contribute $50,000 or to raise $100,000.
The money raised will go to the Romney Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee formed between the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee and various state Republican parties.
However, the fundraiser would be closed to the press, a Romney aide told reporters.