WASHINGTON — The White House is currently considering plans for US President Donald Trump to visit Israel, an administration official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, confirming speculation that talks for a trip are underway.
“We are exploring the possibility of a future visit to Israel as well as other countries,” the official said.
It would be Trump’s first visit to Israel.
Earlier on Wednesday, Channel 2 reported that Trump is expected to arrive in Israel for one night at the end of May and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio that preparations for the visit were at an advanced stage, although specifics have not yet been finalized.
It is not clear whether the president would also visit the Palestinian Authority. He is scheduled to host PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Trump in Washington in February.
The Channel 2 report said an advance US delegation will hold talks at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and visit possible sites for the president’s itinerary.
The trip may take place on May 23 and 24, when Israel will mark Jerusalem Day, celebrating 50 years since the reunification of the city under Israeli control in the 1967 Six Day War.
Israel extended sovereignty to East Jerusalem and the Old City and claims the entire city as its capital; the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
No US president has visited Israel in the first months of his term.
Richard Nixon was the first serving president to visit — in 1974, nearly five years after he first took office. Jimmy Carter came in 1979, more than two years into his term, after brokering the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt. Bill Clinton visited a record four times, and George W. Bush came twice.
The last serving US president to visit Israel was Barack Obama, who came to Jerusalem for just a few hours to attend the funeral of former president and prime minister Shimon Peres last September. He previously made an official visit to Israel in March 2013, at the start of his second term in office.
Obama did not visit Israel, however, on his first trip to the Middle East in 2009, which included a major speech to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo.
Trump, whose first scheduled foreign trip as president is a visit to Brussels on May 25, is looking to expand on that trip by arriving in Israel on May 21 or in the days after, some Hebrew media reports said this week.
His trip to Israel could also coincide with an important decision Trump will have to make on whether to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he promised during his election campaign.
The move would be a highly symbolic gesture valued by Israel as confirmation of the city as its capital, but strongly opposed by Palestinians and the Arab world.
Following meetings with Arab leaders, however, especially Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Trump has appeared to back away from the move, saying only that he was still considering it.
Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president to exercise a six-month waiver on national security grounds. Every president since, including Obama’s predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have signed such a waiver every six months.
The last waiver, signed in December by Obama, expires at the end of May, when Trump will have to make a decision whether to sign it or follow through on his campaign promise to allow the embassy relocation.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.