White House denies clash with Israel over social distancing and masks at peace summit

Peace pact event slated to go on as planned, source says

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Tuesday 15 September 2020 15:51
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The White House is denying social media reports of a spat with Israeli officials over mask-wearing and social distancing at a midday White House event where Benjamin Netanyahu will sign peace accords with the leaders of two Arab countries.

One report posted in a Twitter thread by a former senior Democratic Party official, Jon Cooper, described the situation as a "dispute" and alleged White House staff were trying to both please Israeli security officials and Donald Trump.

"Trump has requested that no masks be worn, and chairs be placed right next to each other as if it was one of his rallies. Trump is again saying there is 'no problem and the virus is going away' and 'just look at our economy – it's coming back,'" Mr Cooper tweeted without citing or describing his sources.

He contends White House aides had told colleagues who will be among those on the South Lawn for the historic event they should not wear masks "because it looks better." Mr Cooper also contends Israeli security have told the White House they are concerned about the 70-year-old Netanyahu contracting a virus that has killed over 194,000 people on US soil, and were threatening to keep him at a Washington, DC, hotel.

A source with knowledge of the planning denied any conflict with the Israeli delegation, saying there have been "no issue at all leading up to today."

Israel will implement a national lockdown on Friday night, the first country to do so twice. Several hundred people are expected on the White House’s South Lawn, a bigger anticipated audience than the 250-person gatherings allowed in the Jewish State.

A US official told the Times of Israel the lawn is a “vast” space and participants will be kept as far apart as possible, adding each of the three Middle Eastern countries’ delegations are taking the matter seriously. But that does not mean mask-wearing will be mandatory. 

As of around 11 a.m., the double-pact signing event was still scheduled to proceed.

Mr Netanyahu, according to a White House-crafted schedule, is slated to arrive at the executive mansion and be greeted by the US first couple at 11:20 a.m.

Mr Trump and his aides are hailing the peace pacts Mr Netanyahu is slated to sign with the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain as the potential start of a more-peaceful Middle East. He told Fox News Channel on Tuesday morning more such pacts involving Israel are likely ahead.

But experts say without one with the Palestinians, true peace is unlikely.

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