Israel wants the White House to explain why a US diplomat preparing President Donald Trump’s visit to Jerusalem said Judaism’s Holy Western Wall in the east side of the city is part of the occupied West Bank, an Israeli official said on Monday.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally, and the Western Wall – the holiest prayer site for Jews – is part of territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported that during a planning meeting between US and Israeli officials, the Israelis were told that Trump’s visit to the Western Wall, in annexed East Jerusalem, was private. The US official reportedly said Israel did not have jurisdiction in the area and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not welcome to accompany Trump there.
Trump’s administration has been sending mixed messages in its dealings with a right-wing Israeli government that had hoped for a more sympathetic attitude from the Republican president after a rocky relationship with his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
“The statement that the Western Wall is in an area in the West Bank was received with shock,” said the official in Netanyahu’s office.
“We are convinced that this statement is contrary to the policy of President Trump … Israel has made contact with the US on this matter,” the official said.
The Palestinian Authority is based in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Israel continues to expand illegal settlements on the territory that would be a part of a future Palestinian state.
In December 2016, the UN Security Council condemned Israeli settlements in a resolution rejected by Trump, who was a president-elect at the time.
Trump has reportedly asked Netanyahu to slow Israeli settlement building activity in the West Bank, but the US president has appointed a pro-settlement envoy to Israel, and the White House has failed to denounce plans for new units.
The US president vowed during his election campaign to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move that would anger Palestinians and the wider Arab and Muslim worlds.
The new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, departed from diplomatic protocol by visiting the Western Wall on Monday.
It is highly unusual for a new envoy to visit the holy site just hours after arriving in Israel.
Friedman is an orthodox Jew who has raised funds for a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.
A bankruptcy lawyer by profession, Friedman has no previous diplomatic experience. He will officially take up his role when he presents his credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday.