Just when it seemed that the Biden administration had mostly reverted back to many of the Obama administration’s policies on Jerusalem, US Ambassador Thomas Nides visited the Western Wall.
On Saturday night, the US Embassy released a photo and a celebratory visit by Nides, in which he looked as if he was doing what thousands of Jews have done this week: visit the Western Wall Hanukkiah.
But his visit also gave a nod in the direction of the Biden administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, when he lit the Hannukah menorah there to mark the seventh night of the holiday.
He is only the second US ambassador to Israel to visit Judaism’s holy site, following his predecessor, David Friedman, who went there almost immediately upon his arrival in Israel in 2017.
Until then, US officials did not move across the pre-1967 lines, including in the Old City, least it be interpreted as a sign of acceptance of Israeli sovereignty in east Jerusalem.
Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration, did not make an official visit to the Western Wall
Friedman’s visit was a precursor to the dramatic changes that followed regarding America’s position on Jerusalem.
US president Donald Trump not only became the first president to stand at the Western Wall, he later recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and then relocated the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
US President Joe Biden has agreed to keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem. As a senator, he had supported the 1995 Embassy Act, which recognized the city as Israel’s united capital and called for the US Embassy to be located there.
Biden, however, was also vice president under the Obama administration, which did not even recognize that western Jerusalem was part of Israel, let alone sanction visits to the Western Wall.
He has also spoken of support for reopening the US consulate-general in Jerusalem, an office that the Palestinian Authority views as its de-facto embassy.
Israel has opposed the move, which it fears is the Biden’s administration recognition of east Jerusalem as the eventual capital of a Palestinian state.
The Biden administration has also been a vocal opponent of Jewish building in Jerusalem.
So Nides’s visit can’t be separated from the larger policy question of how the Biden administration views Jerusalem.
On the issue of the Western Wall, at least, his visit can be viewed as a tacit sign of US acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over that site.