President Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel is coinciding with Israeli celebration of the 50th anniversary of the military capture of East Jerusalem, which they present as having “unified” their eternal capital city. Yet the status of occupied East Jerusalem looks to be a major subject of talk for the Trump Administration ahead of that visit.
This began yesterday when, during planning of Trump’s visit, US diplomats said he wanted to make a “private” visit to the Western Wall. Israel objected and sought to make it a public visit with Netanyahu escorting him, which US diplomats rejected, with one noting Israel doesn’t have sovereignty over the Western Wall. This fueled Israeli outrage and a bunch of White House hand-wringing about that not being their policy.
Yet today when it was brought up by the media, White House spokesman Sean Spicer was very evasive, refusing to elaborate beyond saying that the Western Wall is “clearly in Jerusalem.” Which it is, but does not address the question of Israeli sovereignty.
Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 occupation, and neither the US nor much of anyone recognizes that as legitimate. Israeli officials have sought to draw distinctions between the Old City, where the Western Wall is, East Jerusalem, which includes areas surrounding the city, and the West Bank in general, though they were all captured at the same time in the same war.
That makes it all occupied territory, legally speaking, which is the basis on which the unnamed US diplomat noted Israel didn’t have a “sovereignty” case to be made on Trump wanting to visit a spot in the Old City. This is not, however, sitting well with Israel.
It will be a difficult issue to navigate on both sides, as Trump is eager to play up his pro-Israel bonafides during the visit, and pointing out the occupation doesn’t help with that. At the same time, Israel will be celebrating the anniversary of that occupation’s start during Trump’s visit, while trying to maintain the myth of an “eternal, undivided city” that isn’t under occupation at all.