The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Tuesday that the US embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, upholding a campaign promise of US President Donald Trump, and that the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem was part of Israeli territory.
Her remarks came amid an ongoing diplomatic spat in recent days between the US and Israel over whether the Western Wall was part of Israel or the West Bank — as one US consular staffer suggested — as well as speculation that Trump may fulfill his campaign promise to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, even as the president has since distanced himself from the move.
Trump is due in Israel May 22-23, stopping first in Saudi Arabia. He will also visit Brussels and the Vatican after leaving the Mideast.
In excerpts from an interview with CBN News on Tuesday, Haley said: “Obviously I believe that the capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem because if you look at all their government is in Jerusalem. So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem and I think we have to see that for what it is.”
Regarding the Western Wall, Haley said: “I don’t know what the policy of the administration is but I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel and I think that that is how we’ve always seen it and that’s how we should pursue it…we’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel.”
Haley’s full interview is set to air on Wednesday.
The issue of Israeli sovereignty over the Wall came to a head this week when Israeli officials asked the team organizing Trump’s visit to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could accompany him on his visit to the Western Wall. But the US declined, with one official telling the Israelis that the site is “not your territory.”
Israel angrily demanded an explanation from the White House, casting a cloud over the highly anticipated visit by the new president.
Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Six Day War and considers all of Jerusalem to be the undivided eternal capital of Israel, a stance not recognized by the international community, including the US.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer affirmed that the Western Wall was indeed “clearly in Jerusalem,” hours after another official, national security adviser H.R. McMaster declined to answer a direct question as to whether the US government considers the Western Wall to be within Israeli territory. McMaster said that question “sounds like a policy decision.”
Asked about the issue on Tuesday, Spicer told journalists, “The Western Wall is obviously one of the holiest sites in Jewish faith. It’s clearly in Jerusalem.”
“But there’s been — it’s an issues that’s had serious consideration. It will be a topic that’s going to be discussed during the President’s trip between the parties that he meets with,” Spicer said.
The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer.
The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. The rival claims to the capital city have often sparked violence.
McMaster’s brief comment appeared to be consistent with long-standing US policy that the status of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
However, Trump has indicated he is disposed toward recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Although his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem seems to be on hold, US officials have hinted that Trump could make some other gesture to show Washington’s new thinking on the city’s status.
Trump’s signal could be as symbolic as identifying the city as “Jerusalem, Israel,” on official White House documents and photographs while he is there, according to sources familiar with planning for the trip. They weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
Previous administrations have declined to identify Jerusalem as being in Israel, out of concern for the diplomatic repercussions.
Trump will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories on May 22-23. His visit to the Wall, formally confirmed by McMaster on Tuesday, will be the first ever by a serving US president.