Israel-U.S. spat erupts ahead of Trump visit to re­gion

Cape Breton Post - - World -

A diplo­matic spat on Mon­day erupted be­tween U.S. and Is­raeli of­fi­cials, just days be­fore a planned visit by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, af­ter an Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive ques­tioned Israel’s claim to one of the holi­est sites in Ju­daism.

Israel an­grily de­manded an ex­pla­na­tion from the White House, cast­ing a cloud over the highly an­tic­i­pated visit by the new pres­i­dent, which is be­ing greeted with a mix­ture of ex­cite­ment and ner­vous­ness by Is­raeli of­fi­cials.

The spat re­port­edly erupted dur­ing preparations for Trump’s visit, dur­ing which he is plan­ning a stop at the West­ern Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the White House.

The West­ern Wall is revered as the holi­est site where Jews can pray, and ac­cord­ing to Chan­nel 2 TV, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu asked to join Trump. The re­port said the Amer­i­cans re­buffed the re­quest, with one of­fi­cial telling the Is­raelis the site is “not your ter­ri­tory.’’ It said the com­ment prompted shout­ing from the Is­raeli prepara­tory team.

Israel cap­tured the Old City, along with the rest of east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. 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.

How­ever, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity does not rec­og­nize Israel’s an­nex­a­tion of east Jerusalem, which the Pales­tini­ans

seek as the cap­i­tal of a fu­ture in­de­pen­dent state. The Old City is also home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holi­est site in Is­lam.

The ri­val claims to east Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and of­ten boil over into vi­o­lence.

An of­fi­cial in Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice said the U.S. com­ment was “re­ceived with as­ton­ish­ment’’ and that Israel had asked the White House for an ex­pla­na­tion.

“We are con­vinced that this re­mark is in con­tra­dic­tion to the

pol­icy of Pres­i­dent Trump,’’ the of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to talk to the me­dia.

Is­raeli of­fi­cials ap­pear to be grow­ing in­creas­ingly ner­vous over Trump’s visit, when he is ex­pected to make an at­tempt at re­launch­ing long-stalled peace talks with the Pales­tini­ans.

On the cam­paign trail, Trump voiced solidly pro-Israel po­si­tions. His cam­paign plat­form made no men­tion of an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state. He

showed lit­tle con­cern about Is­raeli set­tle­ment con­struc­tion on oc­cu­pied lands claimed by the Pales­tini­ans, ex­pressed sup­port for rec­og­niz­ing Jerusalem as Israel’s cap­i­tal and vowed to move the U.S. Em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He also sur­rounded him­self with a core of ad­vis­ers with strong ties to the West Bank set­tle­ment move­ment, in­clud­ing his am­bas­sador, David Fried­man.

Fried­man, a fundraiser for set­tle­ment causes and vo­cal critic of lib­eral Jewish groups, has back­tracked from some of his con­tro­ver­sial po­si­tions.

On Mon­day, Fried­man, an Or­tho­dox Jew, ar­rived in Israel to take up his new post and trav­elled straight to the West­ern Wall to pray. In an ap­par­ent co­in­ci­dence, Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aero­smith, was vis­it­ing at the same time and briefly spoke to Fried­man. Aero­smith is set to per­form in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

“We wanted to come straight to the holi­est place in the en­tire Jewish world, the ‘Ko­tel HaMaar­avi’, the West­ern Wall, straight from the air­port,’’ Fried­man told reporters. “I prayed for the pres­i­dent, I wished him suc­cess es­pe­cially on his up­com­ing trip.’’

But since tak­ing of­fice, Trump has called for re­straint in set­tle­ment con­struc­tion and sig­nalled he is no hurry to move the em­bassy. Ear­lier this month, he held a warm meet­ing with the Pales­tinian pres­i­dent, Mah­moud Ab­bas, at the White House.

Is­raeli Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, a se­nior mem­ber of Ne­tanyahu’s coali­tion govern­ment, voiced con­cern Mon­day that “there has been a kind of change in the spirit’’ of Trump’s state­ments since he was elected.

Ben­nett said he was not sure why Trump has changed his rhetoric.

Ben­nett said he wel­comed Trump’s ar­rival next week, but said Israel also has to stick to its po­si­tions. He said Israel must op­pose at­tempts to es­tab­lish a Pales­tinian state and in­sist on Is­raeli sovereignty over Jerusalem “for­ever.’’

AP PHOTO

In this May 7 file photo, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu chairs a weekly cabi­net meet­ing at his of­fice in Jerusalem. The Is­raeli prime min­is­ter’s of­fice says it is seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tions from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump af­ter an Amer­i­can of­fi­cial said the West­ern Wall is part of the West Bank. The spat re­port­edly erupted dur­ing preparations for Trump’s visit to the re­gion next week.

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