President Donald Trump opened his first visit to Israel Monday, an early visit by a president to a longtime Middle East ally and one aimed at testing the waters for jumpstarting the region’s peace process.
President Trump flew in from Saudi Arabia, where he basked in a lavish welcome from the kingdom’s royal family, and received a similarly warm welcome in Tel Aviv. In brief remarks during an airport ceremony, the president said he had come “to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel” and that his visit with Arab leaders gave him “new hope” for peace in the region.
President Trump, speaking shortly after arriving, urged regional leaders to work together for peace and said his trip to Saudi Arabia had brought him new hope for that prospect.
“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people,” President Trump said during a welcoming ceremony after Air Force One touched down. “But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu, welcoming the president, said he hoped the visit would be a “historic milestone” in achieving regional peace.
“May your first trip to our region prove to be a historic milestone on the path towards reconciliation and peace,” Netanyahu said in a welcome speech to President Trump.
He said Israel shared the United States’ commitment to peace and that, “Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the President Trump was prepared to invest his personal efforts into Middle East peace if Israeli and Palestinian leaders were ready to be serious about engaging in the process.
Tillerson, speaking to reporters on Air Force One, said a three-way meeting between U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders was for a “later date” rather than on this trip.
White House aides have tried to play down expectations for significant progress on the peace process during Trump’s stop, casting it as more symbolic than substantive. Tillerson referred to the visit as “a moment in time” and suggested that the U.S. would take a more active role in the future in brokering a deal if both sides make serious commitments.
President Trump made one symbolic gesture Monday in bridging the gap between Israel and the Arab world. His flight on Air Force One was believed to be the first direct flight between Saudi Arabia and Israel, nations that do not have diplomatic relations. Netanyahu said he hoped an Israeli prime minister could soon make the same flight.
(With reporting by AP and Reuters)