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TEL AVIV — The White House on Monday said that purported comments by a U.S. official claiming that the Western Wall is not part of Israel were “unauthorized” and do not represent President Donald Trump’s stance.
“These comments, if true, were not authorized by the White House,” a spokesman said Monday afternoon. “They do not reflect the US position, and certainly not the president’s position.”
Earlier on Monday, the Israeli media cited a third-hand conversation with a senior member of the U.S. delegation preparing for Trump’s visit to Israel next week in which the delegation member said the Western Wall was not part of sovereign Israel. His remarks, reportedly said in anger, came in response to a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany the president when he visits the Wall. The official allegedly answered by saying the Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank,” according to Israel’s Channel 2.
The Western Wall and the Temple Mount, Judaism’s two holiest sites, were captured along with the eastern part of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. The international community has still not accepted Israel’s claim over eastern Jerusalem and it remains a core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That being the case, no sitting U.S. president has ever visited the Western Wall. Trump will be the first to do so next week.
The White House has not commented on whether Netanyahu would accompany Trump to the Wall. According to the Channel 2 report, the U.S. delegation refused to allow Netanyahu to join Trump, saying it would be “a private visit.” The Israeli team asked if a TV crew could film Trump at the Western Wall and it was at that point, the report claimed, that the senior official angrily retorted: “What are you talking about? It’s none of your business. It’s not even part of your responsibility. It’s not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”
The alleged comment drew an angry response from the Israelis, who reportedly reminded the official that the Western Wall and Temple Mount complex are “territory holy to Israel.”
A source at the Prime Minister’s Office told the Times of Israel that Israeli officials were “shocked” by the comments and asked the Trump administration to clarify its stance.
Jewish leaders in the U.S. agreed that the White House needed to shed light on its position.
“The Kotel is 100% part of Israel & holy to Jews around world,” head of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, referring to the Western Wall by its Hebrew name. “We strongly urge [the] White House to clarify statement.”
The incident occurred after pictures emerged of Trump’s newly appointed ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, praying at the Western Wall upon his arrival in the country. Friedman said he was praying for the president’s success on his upcoming visit.
Trump’s two-day visit will coincide with Jerusalem Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, sparking rumors that he will announce the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.