On the eve of President Trump’s first overseas trip, an unfortunate dispute has emerged over the question, “whose wall is it?” But who is the rightful owner of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem should be indisputable. It is, after all, the last remaining piece of the Jewish Temple compound, destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE, and thus the primary destination for Jews in Israel and around the world to gather for prayer to this day.
Thankfully, one member of Trump’s cabinet, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, is clear on the matter. “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,” Haley said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). “We’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel.”
Haley has been indefatigable in defending Israel at the UN, rigorously pressing other UN member states to end their longstanding hostility toward Israel on a range of issues, including the status of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.
Suprisingly, however, one U.S. diplomat in the president’s advance team told his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall "is not yours," that it is in the West Bank. Follow-up remarks by Press Secretary Spicer and National Security Advisor McMaster did not offer the clarity needed, certainly falling short of Haley’s direct statement.
Denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem has been a Palestinian tactic, supported by the wider Arab and Muslim worlds, for decades. UNESCO member states have shamefully accepted the con and joined in Palestinian historical revisionism. Last October, UNESCO member states passed two resolutions referring to the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, only by its Muslim name, Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, ignoring any Jewish, as well as Christian, connection to this site.
While another resolution was adopted earlier this month with less support than before, it mostly repeated the same assertions regarding Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, and holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The U.S. opposed those measures, which makes the sudden vagueness on the Western Wall somewhat odd.
Judaism -- and its centrality to Jewish identity, worship, and history -- predates Islam by millennia, and Christianity, with its linkage to Biblical sites in Jerusalem, predates Islam by centuries. The only time adherents of all three religions have enjoyed complete freedom of worship in Jerusalem has been under Israeli administration.
Whenever Israelis and Palestinians have negotiated peace, going back to Camp David in 2000, there were discussions about sharing sovereignty over Jerusalem. But years of Palestinian violence and Palestinian Authority refusal to engage in bilateral talks raised and reinforced doubts about the possibility of agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem, and the topic was left on the back burner.
That President Trump will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall, assuming it happens, is profoundly significant. He should accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to join him and his family at Judaism’s holiest site. That would provide a powerful visual statement of U.S. recognition that Jerusalem is central to the Jewish people, and therefore should be recognized as Israel’s capital.
As Ambassador Haley told CBN, “Obviously I believe that the capital should be in Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem. 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."
During his visit, President Trump should make clear, consistent with his efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, that he will fulfill his promise and begin the process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee's director of media relations.