White House says sovereignty over Jerusalem's Western Wall a 'policy decision'
THOMAS COEX (AFP)
The White House on Tuesday avoided commenting on the issue of sovereignty over the Western Wall holy site in east Jerusalem, calling it a complex "policy decision."
During a daily press briefing, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster refused to answer directly the question of whether the Western Wall is located in sovereign Israeli territory, after a US official assisting in preparations for Trump's May 22-23 visit to Israel and the West Bank ignited a firestorm by angrily snapping that the holiest site in Judaism is "not [Israeli] territory. It’s part of the West Bank."
The remark reportedly came in response to an Israeli delegation's requests that Trump be joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu on his visit to the Jerusalem holy site.
McMaster on Tuesday said that "no Israeli leader will join President Trump to the Western Wall," as he offered details of the itinerary for the upcoming visit.
Trump will open his trip by laying a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and "will then deliver remarks at the Israel museum and celebrate the unique history of Israel and of the Jewish people, while reaffirming America’s unshakeable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East," McMaster said.
He made no mention of any plans for Trump to deliver an address from the desert fortress Masada, something which has been a matter of great speculation for weeks.
According to a Ynet report citing American sources, the planned speech was cancelled due to extreme heat, and that the it may be held at Jerusalem's Israel Museum instead.
Trump and his wife Melania will also attend a private dinner with Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah.
The next day, Trump will meet with Palestinian officials in the West Bank village of Bethlehem, visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and say a prayer at the Western Wall "to highlight the need for unity among three of the world’s religions, unity in confronting a very grave threat to all of civilization, and unity in embracing an agenda of tolerance," McMaster said.
Trump will be the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall, part of the Temple Mount complex revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
While in the Palestinian territories, Trump "will convey the eagerness to facilitate an agreement that ends the conflict and he will urge leaders to take steps that will help lead to peace."
Fresh questions were raised over the White House's approach to the ultra-sensitive status of Jerusalem ahead of the visit, with intensifying debate over whether the United States should move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ahead of Trump's visit to the region.
Israeli right-wingers have pressed Trump to stick to his pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but the president has backed away since taking office, saying it was still being looked at.
Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel considers the entire city to be its undivided capital.
The rival claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and no countries currently have their embassies there, instead basing them in Israel's commercial capital Tel Aviv.
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Until today America has been on the opposite side of history & facts.
Maybe if Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital sooner rather than later, Israel might find a more speedy way to restore intelligence links with the US to their previous level.