Israeli media reports say prime minister was angered to learn a number of ministers had planned to skip US president’s arrival.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has reportedly been forced to order his ministers to attend the airport reception for Donald Trump on Monday, after discovering that a number had planned not to attend.
According to reports in the Israeli media, an angry Netanyahu was informed on Sunday that party heads and a number of ministers planned to skip the reception after the White House had asked for the meet and greet to be shortened to the two countries’ anthems and handshakes only between Netanyahu and Trump.
Haaretz, the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post all carried stories, some quoting an identified Israeli government official on the instruction from Netanyahu, amid claims that ministers had been upset at not being included in the receiving line on the airport tarmac.
The row is the latest in a series of controversies to hit the planned visit of the US president, which officials in Israel have privately characterised as often haphazard.
Trump will arrive for the whirlwind visit to Israel and to the occupied Palestinian territories on Monday, amid mounting questions over what – if any – practical steps he will take to advance his “ultimate peace deal” between the two sides.
Overshadowed by the escalating scandals surrounding him, the US president will meet Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, during 26 hours of events.
Trump will arrive from Riyadh on Air Force One just before noon at Ben Gurion airport, accompanied by his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared, before flying by helicopter to Jerusalem.
During his visit, Trump will briefly visit the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, dine with Netanyahu and make a private visit to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site.
Then on Tuesday morning Trump will meet Abbas in Bethlehem before flying on to Rome.
Speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, ahead of Trump’s arrival, Netanyahu said: “I will discuss with President Trump ways to strengthen our primary and steadfast ties with the United States. We will improve our security ties, which we are strengthening on a daily basis. We will also discuss ways to advance the peace.”
The visit will take place under tight security with about 10,000 police securing the Israeli part of the visit, which will be accompanied by road closures.
Trump will spend a single night in a suite in the King David hotel protected by glass capable of withstanding a rocket-propelled grenade and a poison gas attack.
The visit comes at a tense time ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day Warin early June – which for Palestinians marks five decades of occupation – and amid a continuing hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails that has prompted sometimes violent demonstrations on the West Bank.
Trump’s problems at home are also seen by some as having cast a pall over the proceedings, with Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel under Barack Obama, predicting: “I think the trip’s in a lot of jeopardy [in] being able to be productive because of all the chaos and controversy that’s going on in Washington.”
Despite the signs posted in Jerusalem neighbourhoods welcoming Trump as “a friend of Zion” and calling on hims to “make Israel great”, his visit is also causing anxieties for many on Israel’s right for whom Trump’s election was seen initially as the cause for unbridled celebration.
Since his inauguration on 20 January, those same rightwingers fear that Trump has drifted towards an ever more conventional US foreign policy position on the peace process.
Far from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office – as he promised – Trump has kicked that issue into the long grass while expressing a sometimes garbled objection to Israeli settlement building.
That has seen David Friedman, the controversial and pro-settler new US ambassador to Israel who arrived last week, move quickly to reassure Netanyahu’s government that Trump remains as firmly committed to Israel as ever, even as he suggested that no announcement on the US embassy would be made until after Trump’s visit.
The messaging on the Israel-Palestine peace process has also been downbeat, with one US official telling Haaretz on Sunday that the height of Trump’s ambitions for his “ultimate deal” right now appears to involve no more than encouraging the two sides to play nicely to create conditions for direct talks.
“The president has made a general statement regarding his view on settlements and he hopes the Israeli government takes it into account,” the official said.
“He was also pretty direct with President Abbas regarding what they need to do regarding incitement and the payments to families of terrorists. He has been quite clear about that and he will be clear about that during the visit.”
Instead, the expectation will be that Trump will neither outline a vision for a framework for the peace process nor any concrete steps.
What noises that have emerged from reported leaks about Trump’s plans to advance peace suggest an implausible mishmash of ideas – including the idea that Israel be allowed to continue settlement building during talks.
On the Israeli side the most significant outcome is a proposal for improving the economic quality of life for Palestinians on the West Bank, including longer opening hours for the Allenby Bridge crossing to Jordan, more building permits in the so-called area C and suggestions for new industrial zones on the West Bank.
Lacking any clear prospects for a breakthrough, the runup to the visit has been dominated by mini – and sometimes concocted – controversies including the comment by a US official telling Netanyahu’s office that the Western Wall was not in Israeli territory.
Trump will, however, become the first US president to visit the wall, a fact that was being spun last week by Jonathan Schanzer of the rightwing US Foundation for Defence of Democracies as a pro-Israel step.
“I think that if Trump himself goes to the Western Wall and does it with Israeli officials, even Israeli security, there’s going to be very little argument over who controls it – certainly [when] going there to acknowledge it as a Jewish holy site,” said Schanzer.
On the Palestinian side, officials appear content that the worst predictions regarding Trump on the Middle East – fuelled by his own campaign rhetoric – have not materialised.
“We’re happy that, contrary to initial expectations, the Trump administration has been willing to listen,” one official said. “Our readout is that Trump was surprised by Abbas’s declaration of his willingness to make peace, having being told the opposite by some of his advisers.”