US President Donald Trump's thirty hours in Israel began at 12:25 today when US Air Force 1 landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Some members of Trump's entourage, which numbers no fewer than 1,300 administration officials, diplomats, and security personnel, arrived earlier aboard helicopters that landed at Ben Gurion one after another like an airlift. The White House had at first requested that the official visit should not include ceremonies and speeches at the airport, but, under pressure from government ministers, it was agreed that there would be a complete ceremony including speeches by Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Reuven Rivlin.
The ministerial rebellion was led by Minister of Culture Miri Regev, who declared that she would refuse to come to the airport if the US president did not intend to shake hands with all the ministers in attendance. "I won't be there for four hours as scenery; ministers have more important things to do," she said. Later, she announced that she would turn up unconditionally, after a conversation with Netanyahu.
"This is the protocol, there's no avoiding it," Netanyahu said to Trump as they walked along the red carpet, after the US president remarked that he was still insufficiently drilled. MK Oren Hazan (Likud) seized the opportunity to snatch a "selfie" with Trump, to Netanyahu's annoyance.
Even in his brief arrival speech at the airport, Trump did not omit to mention his diplomatic intentions: "We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together. There is no other way," he said.
Trump mentioned that in his visit to Saudi Arabia he had met leaders from the Arab and Muslim world and had found them to be partners in the war on terror and the ideology of evil, and also "new hope". He stressed the deep commitment of the US government to the future and security of Israel, adding that Israel was "a nation forged in the commitment that we will never allow the horrors of the last century to be repeated."
For his part, Netanyahu, who has apparently understood which way the wind is blowing, said, "Mr. President, yesterday in Saudi Arabia you delivered a forceful speech of clarity and conviction. You called on all nations to drive out terrorists and extremists. You called for the forces of civilization to confront the forces of barbarism. Mr. President, for 69 years, Israel has been doing precisely that. We’ve manned the front lines of civilization; we fought terrorism; and we’ve build a modern, vibrant, democratic, Jewish state. In doing so, Mr. President, we’ve protected all faiths - Muslims, Christians, everyone."
Netanyahu continued, "Mr. President, Israel also shares the commitment to peace that you expressed yesterday. We’ve already made peace with Egypt and with Jordan, and Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians. The peace we seek is a genuine and durable one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all. Mr. President, you just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. I hope that one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh."
At the welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, Trump, Netanyahu and their wives exchanged private remarks that were recorded by the video cameras. Among other things, Sara Netanyahu said to Melania Trump, "Most of the people in Israel love us, not like the media," to which President Trump responded "We have a lot in common."
Trump is accompanied by senior members of his government and by his wife Melania, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. Among the US officials are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor Hebert McMaster, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
At the end of the reception ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, which included the traditional guard of honor and the IDF military band, Trump and his wife Melania flew by helicopter to Jerusalem for a 45-minute meeting with President Rivlin and his wife Nechama at the official presidential residence. The two couples exchanged modest gifts, and the US president was shown an almond tree planted in his honor in the garden of the residence. In his statement, Rivlin said, "Mr. President, we are happy to see that America is back in the area. America is back again. You marked the defeating of ISIS as one of your top missions. This is a most important objective. Israel will do everything in its power in order to assist you in this mission.
"Our destiny - Palestinians and Jews - is to live together in this land. We must build trust and cooperation between us. But in order to achieve this we need new ideas, new energy, that will help us move forward, together. But we must be sure that we don’t go to sleep with a dream, and wake up with a nightmare: with Iran, ISIS and Hamas, on our borders. In order to dream, we need to be sure that Iran is out; out of our borders, out of Syria, out of Lebanon. I welcome your willingness to help us move forward."
Trump responded: "The United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran can never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon, not ever, ever, and must cease its training and funding of terror groups and militias, and must cease immediately.”
Trump continued to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, which he insisted on visiting without being accompanied by any Israeli officials, an insistence that caused anger and disappointment in the government and in right-wing political parties. In Israeli political circles this act of Trump's is seen as signaling that, contrary to his declarations before he became president, he will not deviate from the line taken by previous US administrations as far as the status of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is concerned, at least until a general diplomatic settlement is signed.
After his visit to the Western Wall, Trump was driven to the King David Hotel to rest. This evening he will hold a meeting with Netanyahu followed by an official dinner at the prime minister's residence in Balfour Street.
There is considerable tension in Jerusalem as President Trump's speech tomorrow at the Israel Museum, the main public speech of his visit, is awaited. The main fear is that Trump will in effect accept the need for the founding of a Palestinian state as a basis for a peace settlement, and will call on the sides to refrain from unilateral steps until then, among other things from construction in the Occupied Territories, particularly outside existing settlement blocks. There are those who see a link between the investigation into Russian interference in the US presidential election and Trump's enhanced motivation on the diplomatic front.
There are still some in the Israeli government who hope that Trump will use the opportunity of his speech to announce the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but it is generally thought that he will avoid commitment to a timetable for such a move.
Trump's visit was anticipated by a decision by Israel's security cabinet today on a range of economic relaxations for the Palestinian Authority. Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) said her party would continue to oppose any halt to Israeli construction in the territories, but that she would support economic measures such as lifting road blocks and developing infrastructure.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 22, 2017
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