JERUSALEM (USA Today) President Trump arrived in this eternal and divided city Monday (May 22) in search of what he has called "the ultimate deal" — an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that would finally end decades of failed and frustrating diplomacy.
Trump said the time may be right for a peace deal, citing what he said was "a really good feeling toward Israel" at the American Arab Islamic Summit in Riyadh.
"What’s happened with Iran has brought many of the other parts of the Middle East toward Israel, and you could say that if there’s a benefit, that would be the benefit," he said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Reuven Rivlin.
"Every challenge creates opportunity," Rivlin responded.
Fresh off a remarkably warm reception in Saudi Arabia, Trump arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport and walked a red-carpeted gauntlet of Israeli dignitaries there to greet him. The display wasn't entirely spontaneous: Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made attendance mandatory for all government ministers.
Netanyahu called Trump's flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv "a historic milestone on the path to reconciliation and peace." Indeed, the Air Force One flight itself was as symbolic as it was historic: It was the first known direct flight allowed between Saudi Arabia and Israel in modern history.
"Thank you and shalom," Trump said. "I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel."
Trump's schedule over the two-day Israeli leg includes visits to Christian and Jewish holy sites, meetings with Israel's president and prime minister, and a trip to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The visit is part of a carefully constructed theme of Trump's first foreign trip as president. By visiting countries that are the spiritual homes of Islam, Judaism and Catholic Christianity, Trump is seeking unity as he dives head-first into some of the most intractable conflicts in the world.
"Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians," Trump said as he met with Abbas at the White House earlier this month. "Let's see if we can prove them wrong, OK?"
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump feels now is a "moment in time" when a breakthrough is possible.
"I think the president has indicated he’s willing to put his own personal efforts into this, if the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership are ready to be serious about engaging as well," he said.
But the visit also comes as the U.S.-Israeli relationship is stressed by revelations that Trump shared sensitive Israeli intelligence with Russia in an Oval Office meeting two weeks ago. The White House insists that Trump did not divulge the source of his intelligence about potential terrorist threats emanating from Syria, but intelligence agencies worry that details of the plot could allow the Russians to identify where the information came from.
Tillerson said he doesn't expect Trump to bring up the incident. "I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” he said.
(Gregory Korte writes for USA Today)