There may trouble in paradise. After a smooth honeymoon period, President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appear to be at odds over the legal status of Jerusalem.
Ahead of Trump’s first international trip as president to the Middle East, the Netanyahu government is reeling over comments made by administration officials.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
The drama unfolded when a senior White House official said that the Western Wall was part of the West Bank and not part of Israel's territory, as Channel 2 reported on Monday.
"The Western Wall is not in your territory," the official reportedly said.
It seems that the official was prompted to make the statement after members of Netanyahu's team asked if Netanyahu could join Trump on the visit to the Western Wall and whether Israeli photographers could document the event, to which the Americans replied that the Western Wall was a "disputed territory."
According to Channel 2, the same official told members of Netanyahu's team that Trump's visit to the Western Wall was a private visit and also added: "No way, why is this your business?"
The official allegedly went on to say: "This is not your territory but rather part of the West Bank."
According to The Times of Israel, a senior official from the Netanyahu government has confirmed these reports.
While the official said that the Netanyahu government does not believe that the Trump team’s remarks reflect White House policy, Israeli officials were so upset over the U.S. delegations position on Jerusalem that a shouting match erupted between representatives of the two countries.
“These comments led to vociferous protests by the Israelis, with the discussion descending into shouting, and the Israelis reminding the U.S. team that the Western Wall and adjacent area ‘is territory holy to Israel,’ reports The Times of Israel, adding:
In a statement reported by Channel 2, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office said that “the comment that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank was received with astonishment” but that “Israel is certain that the comment contradicts President Trump’s policy as expressed in his fierce opposition to the latest UN Security Council resolution” — a reference to UNSC Resolution 2334 from last December, which rejected Israeli rights in Jerusalem and which Trump publicly opposed. “Israel has asked the US about this,” the PMO official said.
As The Times of Israel notes, the spat between Israeli and U.S. officials occurred shortly after U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Jewish State, made a personal trip with his family to the Western Wall to say some prayers.
“We’re a bit tired, but we wanted to come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, the ‘Kotel Hama’aravi,’ the Western Wall, so we straight came here,” Friedman said, according to U.S. Embassy.
To wit, Friedman’s piety is grounded in two millennia of Jewish history. The Western Wall is considered to be on holy ground because of what lies behind it, the Temple Mount. Directly behind the Wall stood the First and Second Temples. The tunnel next to the visible part of the Wall which runs parallel to the Wall gives visitors the chance to stop and pray on the other side of the Wall from what was the Holy of Holies, the holiest place on earth for Jews, which could only be entered once a year by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. The Temple served as a religious and political capital to two Jewish Commonwealths and was the destination for a nationwide pilgrimage three times a year.
The Western Wall has witnessed some of history’s most powerful empires subjugate the Jewish people in Israel. While those empires have disappeared from history, the Wall still stands. Throughout all of this, the Jewish people have survived. The Western Wall is a living testament to the Jewish will to survive.
What makes these reports about the Trump teams behavior so disturbing is the fact that they play into the hands of Israel’s most hostile enemies.
As The Daily Wire reported last October, “UNESCO, the politicized ‘cultural’ arm of the United Nations, passed a resolution designed to erase more than 3000 years of Jewish history. The unequivocally anti-Jewish resolution posits that Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount. Of course, the sick irony here is that it was the Jews that built the Temple Mount, a structure now increasingly occupied by colonialist Arab-Muslims.”
At the time, “[t]he United States led the charge against the resolution, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, Lithuania and Estonia,” according to The Daily Wire’s report.
Adding insult to injury, the Trump team’s “shocking” behavior came as top officials telegraphed the administration’s apparent reconsideration of the president’s vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
“On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared the Trump administration’s renewed efforts to advance a peace initiative between the Israelis and Palestinians,” noted The Daily Wire. “In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Tillerson appeared to walk back Trump’s vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, asserting that such a move would hinge on diplomatic talks moving forward.”
Tillerson’s remarks prompted immediate pushback by the Israeli prime minister himself.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the U.S. government and to the world,” Netanyahu asserted. “Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem … will advance [the peace process] by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
Trump's trip to Israel and the West Bank, scheduled for May 22-23, is unlikely to mirror Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, D.C.
Laughs and smiles may now be replaced with shouts and frowns as Israeli officials come to terms with a polarized U.S. administration that doesn’t mean what it says.