Tough day for the American-Israeli relationship.
First, it was revealed that Israel was the source of the sensitive information that President Trump disclosed to the Russians during their meeting. This move by Trump may have revealed to the Russians — who are allied with Iran — sensitive information about Israeli intel gathering in the region.
Second, the Trump administration has rolled back some robust pro-Israel policies it advocated before assuming office. The administration has yet to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a move that would validate the religious and political significance of the city.
The Trump administration has vowed to do this multiple times but has demurred on the highly controversial move since assuming office.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
The Trump administration also widened the daylight between itself and the hard-right Israeli government while pivoting on the key issue of ownership of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Wall is a deeply holy site for the Jewish people and served as a marker for the first and second Temple Mount. The Wall is a popular place for prayer and reflection and is a regular stop for politicians and friends of Israel.
Trump will be visiting the Wall in his upcoming trip to Israel but does not intend to be accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. According to reports, Trump will visit the Wall alone because his team does not consider the Wall a part of Israel. According to an explosive report by The Jerusalem Post:
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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.”
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R. McMaster refused to answer if the Western Wall belonged to Israel. Instead, McMaster confirmed that Netanyahu will not be joining Trump at the Wall, adding:
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
No Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall. He’s going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme to connect with three of the world’s great religions, and to advance—to pay homage at each of these religious sites that he’s visiting, but also to highlight the theme that we all have to be united against what are really the enemies of all civilized people.
Now, it seems, the Wall comments have caused some high-ranking members of Bibi’s cabinet to boil over with frustration. Dr. Yuval Steinitz, who serves as Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water, leveled harsh criticism against the administration during an interview Monday. Steinitz bluntly said if you cannot say that the Western Wall is in Israel, “you should not be here:”
I think that anyone who says that the Wall is not in the State of Israel, or that the State of Israel has no connection to the Wall, should not be here. Certainly, I would not want to see here people who deny Israel’s connection to the Western Wall or the Wall.
Steinitz, who is an active member of Bibi’s conservative Likud party, also dropped the hammer on the international dithering over moving embassies to Jerusalem.
I think we got a clear commitment from President Trump to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and it’s time to put an end to this absurdity. The time the United States will put an end to the unjust and immoral absurdity – and I am convinced that if it does so, within a few years most of the embassies will follow suit … it makes sense that this is our eternal and real capital for more than 3,000 years.
In the wake of the turmoil, Trump’s visit Israel next week could certainly prove to be a contentious one.