Trump's Secretary of State Refuses to Say Western Wall Is in Israel

Rex Tillerson says that the U.S. president's next stop after Saudi Arabia will be 'Tel Aviv, home of Judaism'

Tillerson at the Western Wall, May 23rd 2017
Tillerson at the Western Wall, May 23rd 2017 JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday that the Western Wall is "in Jerusalem," but refused to respond to a question on whether it was in Israel.

He made the comments while flying from Saudi Arabia to Israel as part of President Donald Trump's first international trip.

The Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, is a section of the wall supporting the Temple Mount and the only remnant of the Second Temple, which stood in Jerusalem until its destruction in 70 C.E. Tillerson's comment is in line with traditional American policy over the last five decades, which doesn't recognize Israel's control of East Jerusalem

The secretary of state also told reporters traveling with him that settlements are one of the factors that have made it hard to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians in the past.

Tillerson stated that from Saudi Arabia, President Trump was continuing to "Tel Aviv, home to Judaism" – most likely a reference to Ben-Gurion International Airport, where Trump landed. The president is not scheduled to visit Tel Aviv during his stay in Israel, and will spend almost all of his time in Jerusalem.

Last week, Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, also refused to answer questions over the sovereignty of the Western Wall and whether it is part of Israel. "That's a policy decision," he noted. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also declined to say whether the Western Wall is in Israel.

With regards to settlements, Tillerson said that "settlements are part of the overall peace discussion. It’s just there are a number of elements that have presented challenges to the peace process in the past, settlements is clearly one of those.”

Tillerson also addressed the fact that the president flew directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel, saying, "we’re flying directly to Tel Aviv. That’s where we’re going to land. I think on the broader contours we’re hopeful that relations can continue to improve between the Arab nations and Israel. There’s a lot to overcome historically in those relationships. But all of that is going to be important to bringing peace and stability to the region. So we’re very supportive of any way that the Arab nations and Israel can find to take whatever the smallest steps forward might be to begin to build another level of trust between all of those countries as well.”