(Ronen Zvulun / AFP/Getty Images)
At the insistence of the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was notably absent from President Trump’s visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem — but Israelis seemed content to focus on the upside of the visit.
“There’s a feeling that they acknowledge our feelings," said Rafi Reshef, a commentator for Israel Channel 10 news who praised Trump for his “bravery” in going to the site. "I don’t know if it will translate into diplomacy.”
Trump’s visit to the wall, a remnant of the ancient Jewish temple, and to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to mark the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, was the first by a sitting U.S. president to the holy sites in nearly a century. Both stand on land that is contested by Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel had asked if Netanyahu could join the visit to the wall, but was told no, in keeping with U.S. policy that the status of the Old City of Jerusalem is a subject for peace negotiations. Still, many Israelis considered the visit to the wall a tacit recognition of their control over East Jerusalem, captured from Jordan nearly 50 years ago in the Six-Day War.
Standing face to face with the famous giant stone blocks that were the retaining wall of the temple — the holiest site in Judaism — Trump, in a black skullcap, swayed and placed a note deep into the cracks of the wall as is the custom of pilgrims.
Standing with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the Israeli official in charge of religious ceremonies at the Western Wall, the president was shown sketches of the ancient Temple Mount, the site now dominated by the Al Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine.
Michael Oren, an Israeli deputy minister for diplomacy and a former ambassador to the United States, said on Channel 10 that the visit was significant. “The message is that the Western Wall belongs to the Jewish people,” he said.
In the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, the sentiment was different about Trump’s visit to the 2,000-year-old wall, known as Al Buraq to Muslims. Sitting at the entrance to his antique silver shop on Sunday, Mohammed Awad complained that the site does not belong to Jews and that the president made a mistake by not visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque.
“Like President Bush and Obama, he’s not doing anything,” Awad said.
(Menahem Kahana / AFP) (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)