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Trump administration sparks Western Wall status controversy

The US administration caused controversy yesterday with a series of inconsistent statements about the status of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, less than a week before the President’s scheduled 26-hour visit to Israel.

With less than a week until US President Donald Trump is set to land, planning is ongoing for his scheduled visit to Jerusalem’s Old City including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Israeli Channel 2 news reported that Israeli officials were told yesterday that Trump’s visit to the Western Wall would be in a private, non-official capacity, that Israel does not have jurisdiction over the area and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not welcome to accompany Trump to the site.

However, last night US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley appeared to contradict this interpretation, saying: “I believe that the Western Wall is part of Israel.”

When pressed for a clarification of the status of the Western Wall, White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer was only prepared to say:  “The Western Wall is obviously one of the holiest sites in Jewish faith. It’s clearly in Jerusalem.”

Trump had hoped to deliver a keynote address at Masada, but that has now been cancelled because of the extreme heat of the Judean desert. He is set to make the address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem instead.

Incremental normalisation of Israel’s ties with Arab states is thought to be on the agenda for talks between Trump and Netanyahu, including a possible agreement for Israeli planes to fly over the airspace of Arab countries. President Trump is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia to advance his regional peace initiative.

In a separate development, new US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman formally presented his credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin yesterday.

Commenting at the presentation, Rivlin stressed “the unbreakable bond between Israel and the USA” and said he was “looking forward to welcoming President Trump in less than a week”.

Ambassador Friedman also met Netanyahu, who reiterated that he “look[s] forward to receiving President Trump and we want to work with you and with the President these coming years to strengthen our great alliance”.