US president praises ‘strong, resilient’ Israel but officials play down hopes of imminent breakthrough in peace talks
Donald and Melania Trump board Air Force One in Riyadh for the flight to Israel. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
Donald Trump has arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia on the second leg of his first foreign tour as US president.
Air Force One touched down at Ben Gurion airport shortly after noon on Monday. Trump was greeted on the tarmac, bedecked with Israeli flags, by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the president, Reuven Rivlin.
Also on the maroon welcoming carpet was the new American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
Descending the steps of Air Force One with his wife, Melania – and apparently referring to the planning problems that have overshadowed a trip Israeli officials have described privately as “chaotic” – Trump asked the Israeli prime minister: “What is the protocol?” Throwing up his hands, Netanyahu replied: “Who knows?”
In joint statements on the tarmac, Trump and Netanyahu both referred to hopes of a wider peace deal in the region, comments that were heavy on rhetoric but light on any details of how that could be achieved.
Netanyahu wore a red tie – in an apparent nod to Trump’s preference for them – matching his wife Sara’s dress.
Welcoming the US president, Netanyahu noted “the forceful” speech delivered by Trump the previous day in Saudi Arabia , when he “called on all nations to drive out terrorists and extremists”.
“Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbours, including the Palestinians,” he said. “The peace we seek is a genuine one, in which the Jewish state is recognised, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all.”
In reference to Trump’s direct flight between two countries that have historically been sworn enemies – a first for Air Force One – Netanyahu added: “I hope that one day an Israeli prime minister can fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.”
Trump praised Israel, saying it had “built one of the great civilisations: a strong, resilient, determined nation” that he said was “forged in the commitment that we can never allow the horrors and atrocities last century to be repeated”.
Officials on all sides have played down hopes of an imminent breakthrough in peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, which Trump has said would be his “ultimate deal”.
Among the officially invited guests were Israeli ministers, security figures, and religious leaders. Some ministers had been ordered to attend by Netanyahu after the prime minister reportedly discovered that a number planned to skip the reception.
From Ben Gurion airport Trump will fly by helicopter to Jerusalem for his first official engagement, with Rivlin.
He will then head to the Old City for private visits to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, accompanied by his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, but without any Israeli government officials.