President Trump told Israelis Monday that he’s brought them “a rare opportunity” for peace in the Middle East.
On his first visit to Israel, Mr. Trump arrived in Tel Aviv on Air Force One from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in what was believed to be the first direct flight between the two nations. He was greeted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a welcome ceremony, Mr. Trump said he found “new reasons for hope” for Middle East peace during three days of meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia.
“We reached historic agreements to pursue greater and greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Trump told Israelis. “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.”
Israelis were already looking forward to a better relationship with the U.S. than existed during the Obama administration. Some people in the audience at Ben Gurion airport were wearing white baseball caps that read: “Ever Stronger: President Trump in Israel 2017,” and featured a picture of a U.S. and an Israeli flag.
“Mr. President, we are happy to see that America is back in the area,” Mr. Rivlin told Mr. Trump. “America is back again.”
Israel objected vehemently to the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, among other actions in the Middle East.
Mr. Netanyahu noted that no U.S. president had ever visited Israel on his first foreign trip, and thanked Mr. Trump for “this powerful expression of your friendship to Israel.”
“Mr. President, you just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv; I hope that one day an Israeli prime minster will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “May your first trip to our region prove to be historic.”
Mr. Trump then flew by helicopter to Jerusalem for a visit to holy sites, including the Western Wall. His visit has been preceded by controversy because some U.S. officials have refused to say that the wall is part of Israel; Palestinians want Jerusalem to become their capital in an independent state.
Mr. Rivlin told Mr. Trump that Jerusalem is “the beating heart of the Jewish people, as it has been for 3,000 years.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has said the Western Wall is part of Israel. Asked if he agrees with her, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson told reporters on the flight to Tel Aviv, “The wall is part of Jerusalem.”
During his visit, Mr. Trump is expected to make a push to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He will meet separately with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
In a meeting at Mr. Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli president told Mr. Trump that Israel is “praying for peace and we are pushing for peace … and with God’s help, somebody will win this peace.”
Mr. Trump, seeming refreshed, joked that there’s a lot of pressure on David Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, and Jason Greenblatt, special presidential envoy to the Middle East, to foster a peace agreement.
“If not, you’ll be blamed because I just put it on record,” Mr. Trump joked.
The president told Mr. Rivlin, “We just got back from the Middle East, back from Saudi Arabia,” in a verbal oversight of Israel’s location at the core of the Middle East.
“We were treated incredibly well, with a good feeling toward Israel,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Iran’s de-stabilizing influence in the region “has brought many of the other parts of the Middle East toward Israel.”
“You could say that if there’s a benefit, that would be the benefit,” Mr. Trump said.
On the flight to Israel, reporters asked 65-year-old Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson if Mr. Trump, 70, was exhausted.
“He’s doing better than I am. And he’s got a few years on me,” Mr. Tillerson replied.