National Security

Sources: Trump Heads to Israel, Where ‘More History Will Be Made’

Trump begins two-day trip in holy land

Donald Trump
Getty Images

Amid a flurry of controversies in Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump will land in Israel early Monday for the second leg of his first foreign jaunt, where "more history is about to be made," according to senior White House officials.

With controversies still simmering over the Trump administration's unfulfilled pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—as well as a separate controversy over the administration's use of maps that erased key Israeli territories—Trump and his senior staff will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his closest advisers.

Trump will start his trip with a visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site located inside Jerusalem's Old City. Trump will become "the first sitting president to visit the" site, according to senior Trump administration officials familiar with the agenda.

The visit holds symbolic significance, as White House officials as recently as last week declined to state if the Western Wall is part of Israeli territory, a declaration that angered many of Trump's fiercest pro-Israel supporters.

The Israel visit has been the subject of speculation for months among pro-Israel insiders in Washington, D.C., who had hoped Trump would announce that the U.S. embassy is being relocated to Jerusalem. However, that declaration appears to be dead due to internal pressure inside the White House to push Trump in a more moderate direction as officials explore the potential for restarting peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

While the president is likely to avoid getting involved in thornier debates about the status of contested areas in Israel, he is expected to emphasize the U.S. commitment to battling radical Islamic terrorists and stopping the Iranian regime's increasingly hostile actions.

Trump focused on these areas during the first leg of his trip in Saudi Arabia, and is likely to hammer the theme alongside Israeli officials, sources said.

"The overarching theme of this trip is an extension of reach by the president on behalf of the U.S. to all of the three major faiths … with an effort to find common ground [and] peaceful coexistence," said one senior Trump administration official who will accompany the president in Israel.

Trump's biggest priority is to "end the common scourge of the 21st century, which is radical extremism and terrorism, and ultimately find ways for people who have for so many years, if not centuries, been unable to live together without violence or bloodshed, to end that cycle and find a way to go forward in peace," the official said, adding that the two-day stop in Israel "fits right into that theme and that objective."

After visiting the Western Wall on Monday, Trump will travel nearby to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of Christianity's most important sites.

Trump also will hold meetings with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday before having a private evening meeting and dinner with Netanyahu and his wife at the prime minister's residence.

Trump on Tuesday will head to Bethlehem, a Palestinian territory, where he will visit the Church of Nativity and hold a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Following those meetings, Trump heads back to Jerusalem to visit Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum, and the Israel museum, where the president will deliver a "major address," according to officials. The specifics of that speech remain unclear and have not yet been disclosed to reporters.