US official to Israel: Western Wall not your territory

The comments are the latest in a series of statements by US officials that have created friction.

May 16, 2017 00:21
2 minute read.
Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump delivers an statement about missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, US, April 6, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel has asked the Trump administration to clarify comments by a US official that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank.

“The statement that the Western Wall is on territory in the West Bank was astonishing,” an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Monday.

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“Israel has turned to the US on this matter.”

The official was responding to a report on Channel 2 that indicated a United States official had told an Israeli member of the advance team planning President Donald’s Trump visit that the Western Wall is “not your territory but part of the West Bank.”

The comments are the latest in a series of statements by US officials that have created sudden friction between Israel and the US in advance of Trump’s visit to Jerusalem next Monday.

Just an hour before the Channel 2 report, on his first day on the job, new US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visited the Western Wall, where he prayed and kissed its weathered stones.

“I’ve come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, straight from the airport,” he said. “I had the opportunity to say some prayers. I prayed for the health of my family. I prayed for the president and wished him success, and I said the blessing one says when reaching a new milestone.”

Gestures such as Friedman’s and comments by Trump gave the Prime Minister’s Office pause when it came to the comments allegedly made by the US official.

“In Israel we’re convinced that this statement is contrary to President [Donald] Trump’s policies [toward Israel], as expressed in his strong opposition to the latest UN Security Council resolution [2334],” the Israeli official said.

That resolution condemned Israeli settlement activity and claimed areas of Jerusalem over the pre-1967 lines were not part of Israel, unless that was included final-status agreements on the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

The issue arose over a disagreement between Israel and the US on whether Netanyahu would accompany Trump when he visits the Western Wall next week, according to Channel 2, which also said the US had apparently rejected that request.

Netanyahu has in the last months mounted an increasingly public battle to clarify that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has asked all countries to move their embassies to Western Jerusalem as a sign of that understanding.

On Sunday, the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen told i24News that Jerusalem could not be considered Israel’s capital until there was such an understanding as part of a final-status agreement for a twostate solution.

Trump has been supportive of Israel and is pushing to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian talks that have been frozen for over three years. He has not used the term “Palestinian state” publicly since taking office, although US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did during his interview with NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.

A senior administration official said the use of the term was “unintentional and unfortunate.”

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

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