President Donald Trump got an abrupt Israeli welcome on his arrival in Tel Aviv on Monday, with ministers asking favors and snapping selfies as they sought to get a piece of the commander in chief’s attention.
Walking down the red carpet upon landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport, the president was greeted by dignitaries exhibiting the blunt forwardness and informality for which Israelis are known. Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu what protocol was as they approached the dais before delivering their speeches. Netanyahu threw up his hands and replied: “Who knows?”
The president arrived for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, and politics surfaced just minutes after landing. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, was among the first ministers to shake hands with Trump, and took the opportunity to insist the United States should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while campaigning for president last year. Since taking office he’s backed away from that promise, saying the issue needs more study. His response to Bennett was a curt “that’s a good one.”
Lawmaker Oren Hazan, a politician in Netanyahu’s Likud party with a reputation for inappropriate antics, gave Trump version of his own characteristically aggressive handshake. Hazen then whipped out a cell phone and took a selfie of the unamused-looking president. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted, unsuccessfully, to swat Hazan’s arm away.
Likud politicians said after the incident that Hazan wasn’t invited to the welcome ceremony, and that he “caused a great embarrassment to Netanyahu.” A TV commentator called the scene “a disgrace.”
Israel captured east Jerusalem 50 years ago and claims the area — home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites — as part of its capital. The Palestinians also claim east Jerusalem as their capital and previous U.S. administrations have said the area’s fate must be decided through negotiations.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan informed Trump of a possible attack in Tel Aviv that transpired while the president was airborne. A car crashed into a crowd of pedestrians, injuring three people.
“You know that it’s possible that today it was also a terror attack. We’re still investigating a ramming in Tel Aviv,” Erdan said, even though police had already said the incident was a car accident.
Before boarding the Marine One helicopter for Jerusalem, the premier’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, told first lady Melania Trump that they had a lot in common with the Trumps.
“The majority of people in Israel, unlike the media, they love us, so we tell them how you are great, and they love you,” Mrs. Netanyahu said.
The president’s flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Monday was believed to be the first direct flight between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize Israel and the two states don’t have diplomatic relations. There are no direct flights between the two countries and flights from either country bypass the other’s airspace.
After Trump landed in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “hope that one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.”
While neither country is in a position to dictate to Trump where to fly, his arrival nonetheless reflects the warming relationship between them. The two countries have reportedly developed covert ties based on their shared concerns over Iran’s growing regional influence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently boasts of his behind-the-scenes cooperation with moderate Sunni countries that are believed to include Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
The only direct flights from Israel to Arab states are to Egypt and Jordan, both of which signed peace treaties with Israel.
During his visit, Trump is expected to make a push to relaunch long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He is slated to meet separately with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
As part of his approach, the president has expressed interest in forging a regional perspective involving Israel and the broader Arab world to help resolve the decades-long conflict. His visit to Saudi Arabia, and speech to leaders from over 50 majority-Muslim countries on Sunday, is reflective of that.
In Saudi Arabia, the president called on the Muslim world to combat radicalization. He said that if Christians, Muslims and Jews join forces, “peace in this world is possible, including peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”