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Donald Trump arrives in Israel, will push peace process

TEL AVIV, Israel — President Donald Trump arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday, hoping to help push forward what he's described as the "ultimate deal" — peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Welcome, our good friend," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while greeting Trump after he stepped off Air Force One.

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Despite the formality of the occasion, Netanyahu and Trump swapped banter on the red carpet.

"What is the protocol?" Trump asked. "Do you have any idea?"

"I think they'll just tell us where to stand," Netanyahu replied as they walked toward their predetermined spots to listen to the national anthem.

Trump later said he was "very, very honored" to be visiting the country, highlighting that he came "to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel."

He added: "We have before us a rare opportunity to bring stability, security and peace to this region and its people — defeating terrorism."

Trump's two-day visit will include separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Trump also plans to visit the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, an important key Jewish holy site.

In April, Trump said he was convinced that an end to the violence was within reach.

"I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians," he told Reuters a week before meeting with Abbas at the White House. "There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever."

White House aides have played down expectations for significant progress on the peace process during Trump's stop, casting it as more symbolic than substantive.

The last round of peace talks, led by then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, fell apart in 2014.

While en route to Tel Aviv, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previewed the stop as a continuation of the president's push for unity in the fight against terrorism, as well as an opening step in the quest for peace between Israel and Palestine.

"I think he feels like there's a moment in time here," Tillerson said, referring to Trump. "We have the opportunity to advance the peace discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians … I think the president has indicated he's willing to put his own personal efforts into this if the Israelis and the Palestinians are ready to be serious about engaging as well."

In his welcoming remarks to Trump, Netanyahu said "Israel's hand is extended in peace to all of our neighbors, including the Palestinians."

Trump ran a pro-Israel campaign and his election was welcome news in Israel. The presidents decision to tap three Orthodox Jews — Ambassador David Friedman, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and adviser Jason Greenblatt — only solidified their favor.

"We do not have a greater friend than Donald Trump," Netanyahu told reporters after a meeting with him at the White House in February.

However, from compromising Israeli intelligence to backtracking on a promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to a diplomatic scuffle over the Western Wall, Israel's once-clear support of the Trump administration is less certain.

Israel has also expressed concern about the $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump announced Saturday in Riyadh. Yuval Steinitz, a senior Cabinet minister and Netanyahu confidant, called Saudi Arabia "a hostile country" and said the deal was "definitely something that should trouble us."

Palestinian activists are calling for a "Day of Rage" when Trump visits the West Bank on Tuesday. The demonstrations are meant to draw attention to a month-long hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners being held by Israel, and to protest what many Palestinians say is unfair U.S. support for Israel.

Trump's first foreign trip began in Saudi Arabia and takes him, after Israel, to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, to Brussels for a NATO summit and finally to Sicily for a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial nations.

Monday's flight — direct from Riyadh to Tel Aviv — was in itself historic. It marks the first time Air Force One was able to fly directly between the two nations, which do not have diplomatic relations.

Netanyahu said he hoped "that one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh."