US President Donald Trump arrived in Israel on Monday stressing the need for cooperation to achieve peace in the region and its people.
Trump landed in Tel Aviv on Monday afternoon, welcomed by officials including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he walked along a red carpet ahead of a brief ceremony.
He arrived in Israel to seek ways to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, speaking of a “rare opportunity” to bring stability to the turbulent region.
Trump’s visit is part of his first trip abroad as president and follows an initial stop in Saudi Arabia, where he urged Islamic leaders to confront extremism.
Security was extremely tight, with Israeli police deploying some 10,000 officers. The alleys and passageways of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City, which Trump will visit later in the day, were essentially under lockdown.
“On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel,” Trump said.
He said later: “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. But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”
For his part, Netanyahu said he hoped Trump’s 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,” he said in a welcome speech to 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.”
Ahead of talks with Netanyahu, Trump will tour two iconic sites in Jerusalem, a city holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The first will be the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Afterwards, he is expected to become the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray and located in east Jerusalem.
The Western Wall visit drew controversy before Trump even left Washington, when US officials declined to say whether it belonged to Israel.
“Jerusalem was and will always be the capital of Israel,” Netanyahu said late Sunday, adding that the Western Wall “will always remain under Israeli sovereignty”.
The status of Jerusalem is ultra-sensitive and has been among the most difficult issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 in moves never recognized by the international community.
It later annexed east Jerusalem and claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Trump will meet Netanyahu at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT).
On Tuesday, Trump will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and give a speech at the Israel Museum.
Any leader would face an enormous challenge in seeking to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together for meaningful talks, and Trump’s inexperience and domestic political struggles will only add to it.
He has spoken of his self-described deal-making prowess in declaring that the “ultimate deal” is possible, vowing “we will get it done”.
“It is something that I think is frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years,” Trump said when meeting Abbas in Washington earlier this month.
After Israel and the Palestinian territories, Trump will head to the Vatican along with Brussels and Italy for NATO and G7 meetings.