Rabat - Hot on the heels of allegations that US President Trump leaked classified information to Russian officials during a visit to the White House last week, the Trump administration has stirred up yet another controversy, this time with Israel.
Rabat – Hot on the heels of allegations that US President Trump leaked classified information to Russian officials during a visit to the White House last week, the Trump administration has stirred up yet another controversy, this time with Israel.
In a matter of days Trump is expected in Israel for an official visit. Ahead of the visit, US officials in Israel were busily organizing a visit to the Wailing Wall, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, when they were approached by representatives for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, requesting that the he be allowed to join the president for the visit. That is where the trouble began.
According to Israeli television’s Channel 2, an American official reportedly told the Israeli contingent “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.”
The comments purportedly inspired a shouting match, with the Israeli officials calling their American counterparts “boorish” and “arrogant.”
Asked about the incident, an Israeli official told Channel 2 “It’s a Trump show. The rest are extras, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.” The official’s remarks were made only after he received a guarantee of anonymity.
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Officially, the Netanyahu office expressed “astonishment.” The White House was contacted immediately for an explanation and, in a statement, the Israeli response was clear. “We are convinced that this remark is in contradiction to the policy of President Trump as expressed in his fierce opposition to the latest UN Security Council resolution,” a direct reference to UN Resolution 2334, which officially spurns Israeli claims to Jerusalem.
White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, wasted little time in asserting that the highly-charged remarks were “not the position of this administration.”
Observers and analysts, however, have noted a change in the post-election rhetoric of the Trump administration regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout his bombastic campaign, Trump made sweeping statements in support of Israel, including talk of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His inner core of top advisors was populated with enthusiastic proponents of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, in a highly-contested move, the president appointed a very partisan David Friedman as ambassador to Israel.
During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s post-inaugural visit to the white House, however, Trump preached restraint regarding settlement expansion and talk of moving the embassy was quickly relegated to the back burner. Then, on May 3rd, Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was hosted at the White House.
An Uneasy Israel
All of this has put the Israeli government on edge leading up to the US president’s visit, which is expected to have Trump attempting to restart the long-stalled peace talks. Education minister Naftali Bennett observed “There has been a kind of change in the spirit” of Trump’s language since taking office.
Trump will be the first sitting president to pay a visit to the Wailing Wall, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, captured by Israel in 1967. It remains the single most contentious point of division between Israel and Palestine, with Israel insisting on singular ownership. The Palestinians disagree.
The site is also the home of the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The international community doesn’t recognize Israeli’s claim of dominion over the eastern part of the city.
While the controversy swirls, the identity of the US official whose comments kicked off the uproar has not been revealed.