Trump departs Saudi Arabia for Israel, talks planned with Netanyahu

Reuters , AFP , Ahram Online , Monday 22 May 2017

President Donald Trump listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 (Photo: AP)

After a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump travels to Israel on Monday, with visits planned to Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

Over two days, Trump is to meet separately with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and visit holy sites. On Monday in Jerusalem, he will pray at the Western Wall and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Trump's maiden foreign tour since taking office in January follows a packed schedule. His nine-day trip through the Middle East and Europe ends on Saturday after visits to the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.

In his speech in Riyadh on Sunday, attended by dozens of Arab and Islamic leaders, he urged regional governments to do their share to defeat Islamist militants.

"A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out," Trump said.

Trump received a warm welcome from Arab leaders, who focused on his desire to crack down on Iran's influence in the region, a commitment they found wanting in the Republican president's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

The reception marked a contrast to his difficulties at home where he is struggling to contain a mushrooming scandal after his firing of former FBI Director James Comey nearly two weeks ago.

Trump used his visit to Riyadh to bolster US ties with Arab and Islamic nations, announce $110 billion in US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and send Iran a tough message.

By the end of his tour, the US president will have visited significant homes of three major religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity – a point that his senior aides say is important in bolstering his argument that the Islamist militancy is a battle between "good and evil."

Long-stalled peace talks

Trump has vowed to do whatever is necessary to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but has given little sign of how he could revive long-stalled negotiations, which were last halted in 2002.

When he met Abbas earlier this month in Washington, he stopped short of explicitly recommitting his administration to a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, a long-standing foundation of US policy.

Trump has also opted against an immediate move of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a longtime demand of Israel. Some Palestinian officials said that this step would mean the end of the peace process.

"We believe that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would mean the end of the peace process," Saeb Erekat, second-in-command of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said on Saturday, according to AFP.

A senior US administration official told Reuters last week that Trump remained committed to his campaign pledge to ultimately relocate the embassy but did not plan to announce such a move while on his trip.

"We're having very good discussions with all parties and as long as we see that happening, then we don’t intend to do anything that we think could upset those discussions," the official said.

Trump will meet Netanyahu at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Monday, AFP said. He will visit the occupied Palestinian territories on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Israel authorized some economic concessions to the Palestinians that a Cabinet statement said "will ease daily civilian life in the Palestinian Authority after (Trump) who arrives tomorrow, asked to see some confidence building steps."

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed the east of the city in a move never recognised by the international community.

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