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President Donald Trump placed a note in the Western Wall on Monday, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit one of Judaism’s holiest sites.
The historic visit is part of Trump’s efforts to highlight “the need for unity among three of the world’s great religions” on his first foreign trip, senior administration officials said. Trump’s stop at the Western Wall came between Sunday’s visit to Saudi Arabia where he called on Muslim leaders to “drive out the terrorists and extremists,” and his forthcoming visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Trump, joined by First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, visited the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is not officially recognized as Israeli territory, and the Trump administration has not been clear about whether they believe the holy site is part of Israel.
George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each visited the Western Wall as private citizens or candidates. None of them was accompanied by an Israeli prime minister, and current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu did not join Trump for his visit. The two leaders and their wives will have dinner at Netanyahu’s residence Monday evening.
Trump’s visit was complicated by reports that U.S. representatives told Israeli officials that Netanyahu should not join Trump because the wall “isn’t your territory.”
“This is in the West Bank. It is a private visit by the president, and it’s not your business,” a U.S. representative said, according to Israel’s Channel Two News.
A White House spokesperson later clarified that the comments “do not reflect the U.S. position, and certainly not the president’s position.”
The Western Wall was part of the Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. It is also a significant site for Muslims because it is the site of the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa mosque, where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended into heaven.