Frenetic preparations underway for Trump’s Israel visit

A delegation from the White House and Central Intelligence Agency is heading to Israel to plan US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel amid reports it plans to turn Jerusalem’s iconic King David hotel into a virtual fortress.

The delegation is set to arrive in Israel on Friday and stay until after Trump leaves the country.

Trump is set to arrive in Israel on May 22 for a one-day visit along with his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the latter two of whom also serve as his advisers.

Channel 2 reported that Trump’s first stop in Israel will be a family visit to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

From there he will head to a reception at the residence of President Reuven Rivlin.

Trump was then expected to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust museum and memorial, an obligatory stop for all visiting heads of state and foreign dignitaries. However, Israeli media said Tuesday that Trump may not go to the site at all or that he would only make a whistle-stop 15 minute visit. These reports were not confirmed.

US President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White Houseon May 4, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Army Radio reported earlier Tuesday that the Trump administration was looking to shorten the US president’s original planned visit to Yad Vashem from 30 minutes to 15. A spokesperson for Yad Vashem told the radio station that “we are preparing for a number of possibilities and if we need to we can plan a shorter tour of 15 minutes.”

Since taking office in January, the Trump administration has repeatedly been forced to fend off claims of insensitivity to anti-Semitism and Holocaust-related matters, in particular when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer drew intense criticism for falsely claiming Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons.

He also referred to concentration camps and death camps as “Holocaust centers.”

The young Trump administration also drew the ire of many in the Jewish community when it released a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January that made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism.

But the president has seemed to make amends, delivering a keynote address in April at the US Holocaust Memorial and Museum.

Later on the evening of May 22, Trump is set to have dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence with Benjamin Netanyahu. The next day, Trump is to give a speech at the Masada desert fortress and, finally, to visit Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories for meetings with Palestinian leaders.

These tentative stops had not been finalized as of Tuesday night.

During his trip to Israel, Trump will stay at Jerusalem’s ritzy King David Hotel, with all of its 233 rooms reserved for his entourage, Channel 2 reported. Hotels officials said that security teams insisted that the hotel be completely cleared of guests a day before his arrival and that the area would become a virtual fortress.

Dan Hotels, which owns the King David, has also offered to set aside all of the rooms in the nearby Dan Panorama and Dan Boutique hotels for the delegation accompanying the US president.

The King David hotel in downtown Jerusalem (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

On Monday, Trump told the Israel Hayom daily that during his visit to Israel he will “discuss a range of regional issues of mutual concern” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House on May 3, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

“We will discuss a range of regional issues of mutual concern, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and by other terrorist groups. We will also discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he said.

Trump’s visit comes amid efforts by the US president to renew long-dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The president, who has referred to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as “the ultimate deal,” said last week, when hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, that he would be willing to play whatever role was needed to strike an accord.

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

It is not clear if Trump will use his trip to the region to unveil specific plans concerning peace talks, but the timing of the visit — coinciding with Jerusalem Day, when Israel will celebrate 50 years since capturing the east of the city during the 1967 Six Day War — has sparked speculation that he might use the trip make a major announcement regarding the city.

Over the course of his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised he would move the embassy, but since assuming office, he has seemingly stepped away from that pledge.

Vice President Mike Pence told American Jewish leaders last week that Trump was still deliberating on the relocation.

“The president of the United States, as we speak, is giving serious consideration into moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said.


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