Trump Announces He'll Visit Israel After Saudi Arabia; Will Also Meet Abbas

U.S. president to land in Israel on May 22 ■ First trip abroad to also include Bethlehem, Vatican ■ White House: Leaders to discuss Iran, ISIS

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump wave from the top of the steps of Air Force One in Florida, February 10, 2017.
Susan Walsh/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump will be arriving on May 22 for a 26-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the White House confirmed officially on Thursday. Trump, who released the statement about his visit a day after his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said he wanted to use it to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

A senior Israeli official said Trump was due to land in Israel on May 22 at 11 A.M. He will be received at an official ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, government ministers and other senior officials. Trump will then proceed to Jerusalem for a series of meetings with Rivlin and Netanyahu.

The senior Israeli official said that the Foreign Ministry and the Shin Bet security service are preparing for the possibility that the U.S. president will visit the Western Wall and Masada. It is still not clear whether Trump will give a speech during his visit. On May 23, Trump will visit Bethlehem, meet Abbas and apparently will also visit the Church of the Nativity. From there, he will head back to Ben-Gurion airport, taking off at about 1 P.M.

The White House said Thursday in a statement that the president wanted to use his visit to strengthen the partnership between Israel and the United States and to discuss threats from Iran and the ISIS.

The statement also said that Trump would be discussing the Palestinian economy during his visit to Bethlehem.

The White House said that in his meetings with both Netanyahu and Abbas, Trump would discuss ways to advance real peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In a briefing to reporters, a senior White House official declined to whether Trump would use his visit to convene a three-way meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. The president is very involved in discussions on the peace process, the senior White House official said.

Trump will be coming to Israel after a visit to Saudi Arabia. A senior White House official said the president was expected to meet in Saudi Arabia with a group of leaders and clerics from the Arab world who had committed to fight extremist Islamic terror. The senior White House official said Trump wanted to unite the Arab world around a number of goals, including defeating ISIS, restricting Iranian influence in the region and distancing the younger generation from religious extremism.

According to the senior White House official, discussions of the visit by Trump began right after his election, following enthusiastic approaches by Saudi Arabia. He said one of the reasons that Saudi Arabia would be Trump’s first stop was that he wanted to dispel the notion that he is anti-Muslim. The senior White House official said that Trump’s visit would show the whole world that the United States is once again showing self-confidence and is returning to international leadership.

A day after his meeting with Trump, Abbas conveyed cautious optimism with regard to the continued relationship with the American president. In an interview with Palestinian television, Abbas said that Trump had a clear diplomatic doctrine and that he was enthusiastic about it. Abbas said he had presented to Trump the Palestinian leadership’s aspiration for an agreement based on the two-state solution. Abbas said that his conversations with Trump covered a number of issues involving negotiations with Israel, and how talks could be started quickly.

A senior Palestinian official familiar with the content of Abbas’ talks with Trump said that as opposed to the impression Israel is trying to create, talks between Trump and Abbas dealt with the core issues of the conflict and not with matters such as incitement or payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

“We made clear to the Americans that there is no love between us and the Israelis and we are in a situation of conflict and confrontation as a result of the occupation. If the discussions focus on textbooks, incitement and payments, we will remain in the same situation or even worse in another 20 years. But if we talk about the core issues like borders, settlements and Jerusalem and all the subjects of permanent status, all the rest will be part of the solution because they are interdependent.”

Netanyahu responded Thursday to Trump’s and Abbas’ statements to the press and said he expected to discuss with Trump better ways to advance the peace process. However, Netanyahu said the Abbas had lied when he told the press conference at the White House that the Palestinian education system was educating the younger generation toward peace. “Unfortunately, that's not true. They name their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and they pay terrorists. But I hope that it’s possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for. I’m always ready for genuine peace."