U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declined to say whether the U.S. regards the Western Wall as part of Israel during a press conference at the White House Tuesday.
McMaster, who was outlining President Donald Trump’s first official overseas trip as commander-in-chief, said questions regarding the location of the Western Wall, which is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, “sound like a policy decision.”
McMaster’s comments came a day after American and Israeli officials, who were planning Trump’s visit, got into a spat regarding the location of the holy site, with a U.S. official—later identified as David Berns, political counselor at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem—allegedly telling the Israelis the Western Wall “is not in your territory.” The Trump administration quickly disavowed the statement, but stopped short of saying the Western Wall belonged to Israel.
The Western Wall (also known as the Kotel), regarded as one of the holiest sites in Judaism, is the outer retaining wall of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. Israel gained control over the Western Wall during the 1967 Six-Day War, when it captured the eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan. Despite the Kotel’s significance in Judaism and Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem, the international community—including the U.S.—does not officially recognize the Western Wall as part of Israel.
McMaster said Trump would not be accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the American leader’s visit to the Western Wall.
“He’s going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme to connect with three of the world’s great religions and to pay homage to each of these religious sites that he’s visiting,” McMaster said.
While in the Old City of Jerusalem, Trump will also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which many Christians believe is the site where Jesus was crucified and buried.