WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories saw the unpredictable leader tightly following protocol, but a few moments provided low-scale scandal and humour.
Walking on the red carpet from the plane that had just brought them from the first leg of their trip in Saudi Arabia, Trump reached for his wife Melania’s hand, who seemed to deftly yet subtly tap it away in a possible spurn captured by cameras and shared widely on social media.
Welcoming Trump at the airport were members of the Israeli government, each of whom was granted a handshake and short verbal exchange with the US president.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett took the opportunity to tell Trump that with Israel celebrating 50 years since the war in which it took the eastern sector of Jerusalem from Jordan, “now’s the time to recognise Jerusalem”.
“That’s a good one,” Trump seemed to respond to Bennett.
The US does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
A scandal-plagued member of parliament from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, Oren Hazan, managed to gain access to the red carpet and greet Trump upon his arrival.
Hazan, who sued a journalist for a televised report accusing him of involvement in pimping and drugs prior to his political career, whipped out his cellphone and suggested a selfie to Trump.
A bewildered Trump agreed, although Netanyahu tried to prevent it by gently pulling down Hazan’s arm. Hazan said Trump was a good sport about the whole thing, even after his camera stalled.
Hazan, a self-declared “Israeli Trump,” shared the image on his social media, drawing reproach and jokes.
‘They love you’
As the airport ceremony wrapped up, Trump and his wife Melania chatted with Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu about their mutual affection and admiration, but also strayed into media criticism.
“The majority of the people of Israel, unlike the media, they love us, so we tell them how you are brave and they love you,” Sara Netanyahu said to Trump and his wife.
“We have something very much in common,” Trump said.
“We’ll talk about it in dinner,” Sara Netanyahu told Trump.
“We have a lot in common, Donald and I,” she told Melania Trump.
“The same media.”
From the Middle East to Israel
Speaking at the Israeli presidential residence in Jerusalem in his first stop after arriving, Trump said he and his delegation had “just got back from the Middle East,” quickly correcting himself to say Saudi Arabia.
Peach for our time
A statement issued by the White House about Trump’s visit to Israel included a title replacing the word peace with that of a fruit, so that the US president would be seeking to “Promote the possibility of lasting peach”.
‘Never mentioned Israel’
Speaking to the press alongside Netanyahu on Monday, Trump sought to defend himself against criticism that he provided Israeli intelligence to Russia.
“I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” he said in response to a question.
“Never mentioned during the conversation,” he said, as Netanyahu smiled in consternation.
“They’re all saying I did, so you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel,” Trump reiterated.
The Washington Post reported last week that Trump revealed what it said was highly classified information on the Islamic State group during a recent meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Moscow’s Washington ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
So Trump’s denial that he mentioned Israel, which was not even alleged in the Washington Post article, stirred much bemusement on social media.
The White House live feed of the president’s remarks in a west Jerusalem location on Monday was identified as coming from Jerusalem, Israel.
The traditional US position on Jerusalem is that the city’s status must be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
On Tuesday, however, Jerusalem became once again a stateless city on the White House feed, leading commentators to speculate on whether they were witness to a clash of policies within the White House and State Department or simply a mistake.