Official notes Israel would never sign deal without Wall

White House ‘cannot envision situation’ where Western Wall is not part of Israel

Senior administration official also says Vice President Pence will visit holy site next week; in May, Trump was first serving president to go there

US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall, May 22, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall, May 22, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — A senior administration official told reporters on Friday that the White House “envisions” the Western Wall will remain part of Israel under any accord with the Palestinians.

The comments follow US President Donald Trump’s December 6 declaration that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They are certain to delight Israeli leaders — the Western Wall is the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray — and infuriate the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of their intended independent state.

“We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel,” the official said, speaking ahead of US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel next week.

“But as the president said [in his speech last week on Jerusalem], the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement,” the official said.

Furthermore, the official added, “We note that we cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the remarks and there was no immediate reaction from the Palestinians.

Pence is due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday. His trip was delayed so that he could help push a tax reform bill through Congress that Trump heavily supports.

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks as he attends a Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the UN vote calling for ‘the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel,’ at Queens Museum on November 28, 2017 in New York. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

While in Israel for three days, Pence will speak at the Knesset, visit Yad Vashem, and is slated to light a menorah at the Western Wall, which stands adjacent to the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism and site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

Pence is likely to visit the Western Wall without accompanying Israeli officials, just as Trump did in May. Trump, who became the first ever serving president to go to the Wall, said that part of his trip to Israel was a private visit.

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (L) watches as US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Friday’s statements marked an abrupt shift from US comments ahead of Trump’s visit to the Wall, when a US official was reported to have angrily rejected a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany the president, and then sniped at his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

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. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, visits the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 22, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)

Before Trump’s visit to the Wall, no serving US president had ever visited the Western Wall, because US policy has been that the final status of Jerusalem has yet to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Pence will not meet with  Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or Palestinian officials on his visit — since they refused to see him in protest over Trump’s recent decision.

In his address from the White House last week, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his move as a “recognition of reality” — based on Jerusalem’s status as the seat of Israel’s government.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017 as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

His declaration, welcomed by Netanyahu and Israeli leaders across most of the political spectrum, prompted widespread violent protests in the region; four Palestinians died on Friday during clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza, including one who was shot after stabbing an Israeli Border Police officer.

Amid these developments, the White House also announced on Friday that it would deploy its top peace envoy Jason Greenblatt to the region next week to try and advance the administration’s peace efforts.

“As we have said since the Jerusalem announcement, we anticipated reactions like the ones going on in the region but are going to remain hard at work on our peace plan,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel.

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