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Trump administration envisions peace deal with Western Wall in Israel

The Trump administration, which has remained tight-lipped about its vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement...

Posted: Dec 16, 2017 2:40 PM
Updated: Dec 16, 2017 2:40 PM

The Trump administration, which has remained tight-lipped about its vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, signaled Friday that the Western Wall should be part of Israel under any peace deal.

"We can't envision a scenario under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel," said a senior administration official, speaking on a call with reporters alongside four other senior administration officials. "We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel. But as the President said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement."

The Trump administration has remained tight-lipped about its vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement

"We can't envision a scenario under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel," said a senior administration official

The White House later sought to clarify the comments, with a senior administration official writing: "We note that we cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn't include the Western Wall."

The comments, which come just over a week after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, drawing outrage in the Arab and Muslim world, offered a peek into the administration's closely held crafting of a peace agreement the administration hopes Israelis and Palestinians will accept.

The senior administration official's comments signaled that the Trump administration is not considering the possibility of placing Jerusalem or at least the Old City -- of which the Western Wall is a part -- under international control, an idea first proposed at the United Nations many decades ago, before the founding of Israel. The comments also made clear that the Trump administration believes it's unrealistic to imagine a future Israeli state that does not control one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

The comments come days before Vice President Mike Pence is expected to arrive in Egypt and Israel, where he is scheduled to visit the Western Wall. The visit follows Trump's visit to the holy Jewish site earlier this year, when he became the first sitting US president to visit the holy site, which sits on disputed land.

In Israel, Pence will reinforce Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and make clear the US remains committed to the peace process, senior administration officials said.

In June, Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian Authority official said that Palestinians recognize that the Western Wall should be "under Jewish sovereignty," but the larger Temple Mount complex, which includes the al-Aqsa mosque sacred to Muslims, should be under Palestinian control. Rajoub later said the comments he made on Israel's Channel 2 network were misconstrued.

Pence's visit comes as tensions are still running high in the region over Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceling a scheduled meeting with the vice president.

Senior administration officials said Friday they hoped Pence's visit would help serve as a reminder to the region that the US remains committed to the peace process, even as Palestinian officials have now rejected a future US role in the peace process in the wake of the Jerusalem announcement.

"We understand that the Palestinians may need a cooling off period," a senior administration official said. "Everybody realizes that a US-led peace process is the only way forward. We will be ready when the Palestinians are ready to reengage."

During his brief visit to Cairo, where Pence is set to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Pence is expected to discuss regional security, US-Egyptian cooperation in combating ISIS and cooperation in the pressure campaign against North Korea.

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