Wednesday, 26 July, 2017

Israel 'shocked' over Trump aide's Western Wall comments

Erik Tate | 18 May, 2017, 01:19

When pressed by Netanyahu's office whether Trump would stop at the Western Wall located in East Jerusalem, a US official in the delegation told Netanyahu's office, "What are you talking about?"

Tillerson's remarks were the first time that a senior figure in the President Trump administration has publicly raised the possibility that moving the embassy to Jerusalem could harm the new administration's aspirations to renew the peace process and reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Officials are also considering a lesser announcement outlining a United States vision for the future of Jerusalem as Israel's capital without taking any immediate action, created to help Trump save face on his campaign pledge.

Mr. Netanyahu's Office issued a statement that said: "The things published on Fox News are false".

His clarifying statement came after Fox News channel reported that Netanyahu told the US President not to move the US embassy to Jerusalem when they met at the White House last February. But generally, it is hard to overstate the degree to which the career bureaucracy disapproves of moving the USA embassy - and not just in the State Department.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman kisses the stones of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's Old City, Monday, May 15, 2017.

A United States official who is making preparations for President Donald Trump's visit to the Middle East next week rejected a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany Trump when he visits the Western Wall saying it is "not your territory".

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would likely be seen as an unambiguous recognition of Israel's claims to complete territorial control, which could set off a political firestorm.

Trump's team had already planned to have Trump pay a visit to the wall, but on his own rather than as an official diplomatic act.

Top Trump aide won't say if Western Wall is part of Israel
The clash erupted over preparations for President Trump's visit to the Kotel, which Netanyahu had asked to join. But even before Trump sets foot in the Holy Land, he appears to have been tripped-up by his advance team.

"It's not your territory", Israeli television quoted the unnamed official as having said. The Palestinians assume that Trump will leave the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, but may offer recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Immediately after landing in Tel Aviv, Friedman traveled to Jerusalem and visited the Western Wall, praying for the health of his family and for the success of President Trump.

Prior administrations of both parties have chosen to ignore a 1995 Republican-backed law ordering the embassy's move in accordance with official State Department policy that the status of East Jerusalem must be determined by peaceful negotiations. "The embassy - the PM supports moving it", a summary of the Oval Office meeting read.

The White House distanced itself from the alleged comments, saying in statements to U.S. media that they did not reflect the views of the adminstration.

One US official said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank, Channel Two reported. It said the comment prompted shouting from the Israeli preparatory team.

The Palestinian Authority is based in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. It considers the entire city to be its eternal capital and next week is set to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of what it calls the unification of Jerusalem.

"The President has recently expressed his view that he wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we can not advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine", Tillerson said.

It's unclear whether Tillerson is reflecting the viewpoint of the president, or simply discussing how he sees the embassy move in the grand scheme of his vision for the Middle East.

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