US President Donald Trump arrived in Israel on Monday for his first-ever visit to the Jewish state, saying his trip marked “a rare opportunity” to bring peace to the region.
“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,” he said in a brief statement.
“But we can only get there working together. There is no other way. Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, I look forward to working with both of you during my stay,” he added.
Upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were greeted by President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Trump made history by flying directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel. He is also visiting Israel earlier in his term than any other previous president.
“Hello, my friend,” Trump told Netanyahu as they shook hands. “Welcome, my good friend,” Netanyahu responded.
In his remarks, Trump also hailed the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel.
“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,” he said. “In this land so rich in history, Israel has built one of the world’s great civilizations: a strong, resilient, determined and prosperous nation.
“It is also a nation forged in the commitment that we will never allow the horrors of the last century to be repeated,” Trump continued, in an apparent reference to the Holocaust. “Now let us build together a future where the nations of the region are at peace, and all our children can grow up strong and free from terrorism and violence.
“We love Israel, we respect Israel, and I bring the warmest greetings from your friend and ally, all of the people of the United States of America,” he said.
Speaking before Trump, Netanyahu said that Israel seeks a “genuine peace” with the Palestinians, as well as the rest of the countries in the region.
“Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians. The peace we seek is a genuine one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all,” he said.
Netanyahu also referred to Trump’s speech on fighting terrorism Sunday in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, noting Israel’s long history combating terror.
“Mr. President, yesterday in Saudi Arabia you delivered a forceful speech on terrorism and extremism, called on forces of civilization to confront the forces of barbarism. For 69 years, Israel has been doing just that. We’ve manned the front-lines of civilization,” he said.
Netanyahu also noted that Trump’s visit to Israel marked the first time a US president ever arrived in the Jewish state while on his inaugural trip abroad, calling it a “powerful expression of [Trump’s] friendship to Israel” and a sign of the strong ties between the two countries.
“I’m confident that under your leadership the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States will become ever greater, ever stronger,” he said.
Rivlin also hailed the “unbreakable bond” between Israel and the US a statement before Netanyahu.
“Your visit is a symbol of the unbreakable bond between Israel and America. You are the president of Israel’s greatest, most important ally. You are a true friend of Israel and of the Jewish people,” he said.
“In the Middle East — an area that suffers from terrorism, oppression and madness, the alliance between the United States and Israel shines like beacon of liberty and progress,” he added.
Rivlin also noted the importance of the timing of Trump’s visit, which is taking place the week Israel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification in the 1967 Six Day War.
“It makes us very happy to know that Israel’s most important ally recognizes the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people all around the world,” Rivlin says. “Jerusalem is the beating heart of the Jewish people, as it has been for 3,000 years.”
After the statements, the US president shook the hands of cabinet ministers, as well as a number of lawmakers and other officials, despite earlier reports that government ministers would not be allowed to shake his hand.
The receiving line was slightly disrupted when a Likud Knesset member, Oren Hazan, who was not supposed to be introduced to the president, pushed forward and asked Trump to pose for a selfie with him. Netanyahu was visibly dismayed, but Trump consented gracefully, even when it took Hazan a few seconds to get the camera on his phone working.
Also present at the ceremony were Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, as well as the new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
From the airport, Trump took off in the Marine One helicopter for Jerusalem, where he met with Rivlin at the President’s Residence.
From there, Trump will visit the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall, becoming the first sitting US president to ever visit Judaism’s holiest prayer site.
Later Monday, Trump will meet with Netanyahu at the King David Hotel and then dine with him at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
On Tuesday, Trump will visit the West Bank city of Bethlehem in order to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, before visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem and the Israel Museum, where he is scheduled to give the central speech of his visit before taking off for the Vatican.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.