New US ambassador to Israel prays at Western Wall

New US ambassador to Israel prays at Western Wall

WASHINGTON (CNN) - H.R. McMaster, national security adviser to President Donald Trump, declined to say Tuesday whether the Western Wall is in Israel, furthering a controversy over the site ahead of Trump's visit to the country next week.

McMaster: "No Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall".

The Western Wall sits in Old Jerusalem, which the Israelis captured in 1967.

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.

Nikki Haley, the USA ambassador to the United Nations, said the Western Wall belongs to Israel and Israel's capital should be in Jerusalem.

A Trump Administration official recently angered Prime Minister Netanyahu's representatives by telling them the Kotel is part of the "occupied West Bank", openly disregarding both the Israeli annexation 50 years ago and the USA position on eastern Jerusalem being a disputed territory. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its undivided capital, an internationally unrecognized claim. They do not reflect the United States position, and certainly not the President's position, " CNN quoted White House statement. 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.

This began yesterday when, during planning of Trump's visit, USA diplomats said he wanted to make a "private" visit to the Western Wall.

In Saudi Arabia, Trump will address a gathering of representatives of 50 Muslim nations in what McMaster said would be an "inspiring yet direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president's hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam".

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Friedman arrived Monday and immediately visited the Western Wall, praying there and kissing the sacred site.

"Obviously, I believe that the capital should be in Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem", Nikki Haley said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Tuesday.

Bennett said he was not sure why Trump has changed his rhetoric.

McMaster was asked twice about the Western Wall's location by reporters, completely dodging the issue. The relocation is strongly opposed by many USA allies as the Palestinians also claim the city as their capital.

In prepared remarks, Friedman said the Ambassadorship was the greatest honor of his life and promised to "support the state of Israel in every way and in all ways".

His appointment comes as Trump seeks ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and questions have been raised over whether Friedman will be able to put his personal views aside. Shapiro said it might upset the Palestinians but could be a way for Trump to cushion Israeli disappointment at his expected decision to postpone the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem for at least six more months.

"We know the Israelis do not want to give on Jerusalem at all and we have to see how strong the Palestinians stand on that", Haley said.

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