The two-day visit there will include private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a wreath-laying at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The stop in Israel comes after the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and will be followed by a trip to the Vatican, where Trump will meet with the pope.
In Israel, Trump is to be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall, which has pleased Israeli officials. But in preparations for the planned visit, a junior U.S. official commented to Israelis that the Jewish holy site is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank” — a remark that an Israeli official said was “received with shock.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer sought to clarify the U.S. official’s comment, saying it does not reflect American policy and that “the Western Wall is obviously one of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith.”
In a briefing previewing the president’s trip, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declined to discuss the thorny question of jurisdiction over the land where the Western Wall is located.
“That sounds like a policy decision,” McMaster said.
The president will not during his visit announce any move of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a senior White House official who cautioned that it’s not the right time for such a pronouncement as the administration is focusing on brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Moving the embassy had been a campaign promise of Trump’s going back to the Republican primary campaign. As early as a March 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump vowed, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Most foreign nations’ embassies in Israel, including that of the U.S. since 1966, are in Tel Aviv. Any potential move of the embassy to Jerusalem would likely be viewed as provocative to leaders of the region’s Arab nations and to Palestinians, who claim that city as the capital of a future state.
President Trump also does not expect to convene a joint meeting with Abbas and Netanyahu on this trip although he hopes that will happen after another round of solo meetings with each of the leaders, the senior White House official said.
“We’re not here to force people to do things one way or the other with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the official said.