Biden will ping through Israel's iconic sights on Middle East tour

JERUSALEM (AP) — President Joe Biden’s race for Israel and the occupied West Bank this week is expected to pass through some of the region’s most iconic landmarks.

Both lavish and grueling, Biden’s visit begins with a VIP arrival at Israel’s main commercial airport, an on-and-off nightmare for regular travelers this summer due to huge lines and delays, and weaves through Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Most of his trips are focused on business. Upon his arrival, he will see Israel’s advanced missile defense technology up close. The threat of Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the 2022 US midterm elections cast a shadow over the entire exercise as Biden steps back on the world stage in its first visit to the region as president.

But between meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, you’ll visit a variety of well-known sites while staying at a historic Jerusalem hotel. Here’s a look at some of the expected highlights of Biden’s tour before he flies to Saudi Arabia on Friday.

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FAMOUS EXCAVATIONS

The King David Hotel is packed this week for Biden and his entourage of hundreds of employees, security and journalists.

It is the first time Biden as president has lain down behind the building’s iconic pink limestone facade, which overlooks the domes and minarets of Jerusalem’s Old City.

King David has been a witness, and sometimes a participant, in the history of Israel.

It was opened in 1931, when the area was still governed by the British compulsory authorities. A bombing raid by a Zionist militant group in 1946 hit its southwestern façade, killing 91 people. After Israel’s independence in 1948, it dominated a valley in no man’s land.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were photographed at a tense dinner in 1977 before the Camp David Peace Accords.

Hollywood has also been here. Movie stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton reportedly got into a fight in public during their stay. Scenes from the 1960 movie “Exodus” were filmed in the hotel’s gilded lobby and elegant terrace.

Presidents going back to Richard Nixon have stayed at the King David. Dozens of kings and prime ministers are also part of the hotel’s client list.

Mosaics that span the first floor of the building feature signature images of luminaries, from Madonna to former President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A staircase behind the reception desk doubles as a gallery of famous faces in the house, including a priceless image of then-US President Jimmy Carter in shorts as he returned from a morning run.

All that history and scenic views don’t come cheap. The 1,600-square-foot (153-square-meter) presidential suite costs more than $3,800 a night the week after Biden leaves, according to the hotel’s website.

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Yad Vashem

Biden will stop Wednesday at Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, which remembers the 6 million Jews killed during World War II by the Nazis and their allies.

The spike-shaped building in Jerusalem tells the story of the Holocaust by emphasizing the experiences of individual victims. It is about 180 meters (591 ft) long and cuts across a mountain, its upper edge protruding through the ridge.

Biden will rekindle the Eternal Flame and place a wreath on a slab over a spot where ashes from the death camps are buried, the museum said.

He will also meet two survivors, Rena Quint from the former Czechoslovakia and Giselle Cycowicz from Poland at the Holocaust Art Museum.

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FROM THE WHITE HOUSE TO THE PRESIDENT’S RESIDENCE

The American and Israeli flags have been ironed and displayed. A long red carpet has been rolled out. A stage has been built.

Such are the preparations at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where Israel’s Isaac Herzog will present Biden with the country’s highest civilian award. The Presidential Medal of Honor has been awarded since 2012 to 26 people who have “made an extraordinary contribution to the State of Israel or to humanity through their talents, their service or in any other way,” according to the government.

Herzog’s office said Biden has shown over half a century in American public service that he is “a true friend to the entire Jewish people.” Other recipients include former President Barack Obama. Biden served as his vice president.

Home to the President of Israel since 1971, the residence is located in an exclusive Jerusalem neighborhood on approximately 2.5 acres (1 hectare). Israel’s third president, Zalman Shazar, asked to be placed according to the biblical verse: “I dwell among my own people.”

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AUGUSTA VICTORIA HOSPITAL

Biden is expected to cross into East Jerusalem to visit Augusta Victoria Hospital to meet with the directors of six hospitals that serve Palestinians in the area.

Two Palestinian officials said Biden is expected to reinstate the $25 million that Trump cut in 2018 after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They spoke on condition of anonymity pending the formal announcement.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future state, and Biden’s visit to a Palestinian hospital in the area carries deep symbolism. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized internationally.

Augusta Victoria Hospital opened in 1910 and provides specialized cancer treatment and dialysis in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as part of a network of six hospitals.

Biden is looking to shore up relations with the Palestinians after has fought to relax part of Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

He will end his visit by meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. He also plans a stop at the Church of the Nativity, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

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GAMES OF MACHABIES

Biden is expected to visit athletes taking part in the Maccabee Games at Teddy Stadium on Thursday in Jerusalem.

Also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” the games are the largest sporting event in the country. Olympian Mark Spitz is gaming’s most recognizable claim to world fame. He swam in his first international competition at the 1965 Maccabiah Games and returned four years later to prepare for his dominant performance at the 1972 Olympics.

Once every four years, Israeli and Jewish athletes from around the world compete in its events. This year’s games, scheduled for a two-week period, are expected to attract some 10,000 athletes from 60 countries, who will compete in dozens of sports.

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Follow Kellman at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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