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Donald Trump ends Middle East tour
January 19 2018, 05:28 | Jonathan Williams
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Dec. 25 2016. JTA
Days before the United States president starts a Middle East trip that includes meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Tillerson told NBC channel that Trump's decision would depend greatly on how it is seen by governments in the region, including "whether Israel views it as being helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction". His flight on Air Force One was believed to be the first direct flight between Saudi Arabia and Israel, nations that do not have diplomatic relations.
"We gave [Iran] a lifeline, we gave them wealth and prosperity, and the ability to continue with terror", Trump told reporters as he headed into a meeting with the Israeli prime minister just hours after he arrived in Israel and delivered an upbeat message about the prospects for progress toward peace in the Middle East. He pointedly sidestepped any mention of the thorny issues that have stymied all previous attempts at a peace deal, including the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlement construction and the Palestinians' demand for a sovereign nation.
He said he was "truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bringing new hope the region and its people".
Palestinians were also preparing for Trump's visit to Bethlehem on Tuesday, where he's due after meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The two sides still lack any mutual trust, they both think time is on their side, not the other's, and the failures and disappointments of the peace process until now hang over any fresh attempt at a breakthrough. Abbas says he is ready to meet Netanyahu under Trump's peace efforts, and there has been speculation the U.S. president could seek to arrange a meeting while in the region.
The argument over the Western Wall is not the only complication to come up while planning Trump's trip to Israel.
Not as pleasing to Israeli leaders, however, were comments by a junior USA official in the lead-up to the visit, planned for Monday, that the Western Wall is not in Israeli territory but "is part of the West Bank".
The summary of the meeting, written by then acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel, referred to a lunch meeting between Trump and Netanyahu at the White House on Feb.17.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
"During my travels in recent days, I have found new reasons for hope", Trump said in a brief speech on arrival.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel did not occupy Jerusalem, but instead "liberated" it. And U.S. officials said no.
The worldwide community, however, does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 in moves never recognised by the global community. Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report. And the USA has not wanted to take sides in that dispute.