US President Donald Trump reportedly canceled a visit and speech at the historic Masada desert fortress after the Israel Air Force informed him he would not be allowed to land his helicopter at the UNESCO-listed archaeological site.
Trump subsequently removed Masada from his itinerary altogether, rather than taking the cable car to the top of the iconic mountain as had been suggested to him, Channel 2 reported.
He is set to deliver the major address of his Israel trip at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum instead.
The White House announced Tuesday that Trump will visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem during his two-day visit to Israel next week — the first serving US president to do so — but he will not be accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“No Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at a press briefing, where he outlined Trump’s schedule for his upcoming visit to the Middle East and Europe. Trump will hold talks and a private dinner with Netanyahu.
In addition to Trump’s stop at the Western Wall — where McMaster said he would “say a prayer” — the president will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also in the Old City of Jerusalem. Trump will also go to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, where he will meet for the second time this month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In preparing for the trip earlier this week, Israeli officials had asked their American counterparts whether Netanyahu could accompany Trump to the Western Wall, but were rudely rebuffed, Israel’s Channel 2 TV revealed Monday. A senior American official reportedly sniped at the Israelis that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”
The White House promptly distanced itself from those remarks, saying they were not sanctioned by official channels and did not represent the president. The official responsible for the remarks was named by Channel 2 on Tuesday as David Berns, political counselor at the US Consulate in Jerusalem. Berns could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening, and the report was not confirmed.
McMaster also told reporters that Trump will visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, where he will lay a wreath, and also deliver a speech at the Israel Museum.
“The president will then deliver remarks at the Israel Museum and celebrate the unique history of Israel and of the Jewish people, while reaffirming America’s unshakeable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East,” McMaster said.
McMaster did not mention the rumored speech at the desert fortress of Masada with Netanyahu, for which senior Israeli officials said there had been advance planning.
Trump will hold talks with Netanyahu and, along with his wife Melania, will join the prime minister and his wife Sara for a private dinner. He is also set to meet Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.
Along with his stops in Israel, Trump will meet with Abbas in Bethlehem, where he will “convey his administration’s eagerness to facilitate an agreement that ends the conflict,” McMaster said.
Trump will “urge Palestinian leaders to take steps that will help lead to peace,” McMaster said. He did not detail what those steps would be.