White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is backpedaling on a comment made by a senior Trump Administration official who reportedly told his Israeli counterparts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not accompany President Trump during Trump’s upcoming visit to the Western Wall, because Judaism’s holiest site was “not your territory.”
Trump’s planned visit to the wall next week is important to Israelis because he will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall is the only surviving retaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple. Israel captured it along with the rest of the Old City in the 1967 war, and annexed it as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all visited the site, but either before or after their tenures as president.
According to Israel’s Channel 2, a surly exchange broke out between the Trump and Netanyahu teams when Israeli officials asked if Netanyahu could accompany Trump to the Western Wall next week. Channel 2 said an unnamed American dismissed the idea because it would be a “private visit” for Trump.
The station reported the Trump official said: “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.”
That reportedly led to an outright screaming match, with Israelis insisting that the wall was “territory holy to Israel.”
The TV report quoted Israeli officials describing Trump’s team “boorish” and “arrogant.”
“It’s a Trump show. The rest are extras, including Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Israelis involved in the discussions told Channel 2.
Spicer clarified in a statement to TheWrap on Monday that the administration does not, in fact, believe the Western Wall is outside Israeli territory.
“That is not the position of this Administration,” Spicer told TheWrap in an email.
Additionally, a senior administration official told The Times of Israel that “the comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the President.”
The prime minister’s office told TheWrap in a statement that “the comment that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank was received with astonishment” and 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 United Nation Security Council’s Resolution 2334, which rejected Israel’s rights in Jerusalem and which Trump has opposed.
“Israel has asked the US to clarify this,” the official in the prime ministers’ office added.
The Israeli official said he did not know the identity of the American official who made the comments.
The brouhaha over the site’s jurisdiction is already gaining traction. The Anti Defamation League “strongly” urged the White House to clarify its position Monday.
Actor Hal Sparks, best known for his role in “Queer as Folk” sarcastically tweeted: “I will be the greatest president ever… but also for our Great Ally Israel…”
Ironically, the incident came just after Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, arrived in the country and visited the Western Wall, where he said he prayed for the president and for the success of next week’s visit.