While Israeli officials welcomed President Donald Trump’s plan to visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, they disapproved of comments made by a junior U.S. official regarding the wall’s territorial status.
The unnamed U.S. official told Israeli leaders the Western Wall is not part of Israel but rather “is part of the West Bank,” ABC News reports. The West Bank is Palestinian territory that Israel has illegally occupied since 1967.
Before Trump’s visit to the wall on May 22, U.S. officials reportedly rejected an Israeli request to let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany Trump to the site, describing it as a “private visit.”
They also rejected a request from Israeli media to cover the visit.
It was in this context that the junior U.S. official reportedly told an Israeli counterpart that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”
According to Israeli officials, this comment was “received with shock.”
“We are convinced that this view is contrary to the policies of President Trump as can be seen by his strong objection to the last U.N. Security Council resolution,” the official said, according to ABC News.
The Security Council resolution, passed in December 2016, condemned Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. The Obama administration’s decision not to veto the resolution met with outrage in Israel as well as certain sectors of the U.S.
The Western Wall is in Jerusalem’s Old City, on the perimeter of what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. In Islam the site is known as al-Haram al-Sharif and is considered the religion’s third holiest site.
Speaking to reporters on May 16, National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster said Trump would be visiting the wall “mainly in connection with the theme to connect with three of the world’s great religions and to pay homage to each of these religious sites that he’s visiting.”
Asked whether he believed the wall to be a part of Israel, McMaster was noncommittal.
“That sounds like a policy decision,” he said.
Trump wore a yarmulke for his visit to the Western Wall, reports CNN,. Accompanied by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump reportedly swayed back and forth as he touched his hand to the wall. He then pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket and inserted it into a crack in the wall.