26 Apr 2005, JERUSALEM, Israel --- Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray during Passover prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City April 26, 2005. --- Image by © OLEG POPOV/Reuters/Corbis

U.S. Diplomat “Shocks” Israel Ahead of Trump’s Visit; White House Apologizes

According to Israeli media, a shocking diplomatic incident occurred Monday as American and Israeli officials prepared for President Trump’s much anticipated state visit to Israel. While discussing logistics on site at the Western Wall, a senior member of the U.S. delegation rejected a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office that the Prime Minister accompany the President when he visits the historic site.

Reportedly, the unnamed U.S. official claimed the President’s visit to the Jewish holy site was a “private visit.” The official allegedly added, “It’s [the Western Wall] not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

The comments immediately drew protests from the Israeli officials and the discussion descended into a shouting match. After the visit, Israeli officials claimed that Trump’s team was “boorish” and “arrogant.” In response, the Prime Minister’s Office said that “the comment that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank was received with astonishment. Israel is certain that the comment contradicts President Trump’s policy as expressed in his fierce opposition to the latest UN Security Council resolution.”

The White House was quick to denounce the remark. In a statement to CNN a spokesperson said, “These comments were not authorized by the White House. They do not reflect the U.S. position, and certainly not the President’s position.”

The Western Wall is the last remaining visible structure of the Second Temple compound and is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Constructed in the first century, it was part of Herod’s temple renovation project. The Second Temple was built in 516 BC following the Israelite return from Babylonian exile. It was destroyed by future Roman Emperor Titus in 70 AD following a Jewish rebellion.

In recent modern times, the historical site was part of East Jerusalem and occupied by Jordanian forces from 1948 to 1967. During this time Jews were prohibited from even accessing it. Following the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 “Six Days War,” the Western Wall was reopened.

Because international and official U.S. policy states that the final status of Jerusalem must be resolved in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, no sitting American President has visited the Western Wall. Previous presidents have visited the site before and after their presidencies.

As part of his visit, Trump is expected to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu as well as President Reuven Rivlin. He is also scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and Masada, an ancient fortification in the Judean Desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, Masada is where the First Jewish Roman War ended when outnumbered Jewish rebels opted for suicide rather than Roman slavery.

The diplomatic spat, coming less than a week before Trump’s official visit and first foreign trip as President, coincided with Monday’s arrival of David Friedman, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. In a departure from diplomatic protocol, Friedman visited the Western Wall hours after arriving in the country.

Friedman presented his credentials to President Rivlin Tuesday morning. During the ceremony Friedman said, “As you know, the president [Donald Trump] has chosen Israel as the site for his first international visit. His love for and commitment to the State of Israel is rock-solid and it enjoys his highest priority.”

“Serving the US as its ambassador to the State of Israel is the greatest honor of my life, and I pledge to you to do all that I can to strengthen and enhance the relations between our two great nations that you accurately described as unbreakable and, I would add, without limits,” the new ambassador added. “I’m so grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity and for having confidence in my abilities, and, most importantly, for sending me off this past week with the unequivocal and unambiguous mandate to support the State of Israel in every way, and in all ways.”

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David Closson

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