Diplomacy

Sec. of State Pompeo, in First, Visits Western Wall with PM Netanyahu

Accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday paid a groundbreaking visit to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, The Times of Israel reported.

The Times called Pompeo’s visit to the historic landmark “significant,” as it “could be seen as tacit American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the contested Jewish holy site and a shift in US policy.”

Because the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, officials generally only visit the Old City of Jerusalem in a private capacity and not accompanied by Israeli officials.

Breaking with tradition, Pompeo said he thought it was important to visit the Western Wall with the Israeli leader as a show of support for the Jewish State.

“I think it’s symbolic that a senior American official go there with a prime minister of Israel,” he said ahead of the visit. “It’s a place that’s important to many faiths and I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be very special.”

The two men were joined by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. After signing a guestbook, the three officials walked up to the wall, each placing their right hands on the ancient stones. Netanyahu and Pompeo slipped a note in one of the cracks, a longstanding tradition.

In recent months, an increasing number of foreign leaders have defied standard protocol. In December, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz visited the Jewish holy site as part of a tour of the Old City – the first time in recent memory a leader of a European Union nation visited the wall, even if the tour was billed as a “private visit.”

Pompeo is in Israel for talks about regional threats and efforts to export natural gas from the Mediterranean to Europe.

“It’s an unbreakable bond that’s based on shared values of liberty and democracy, and shared interest to fight the enemies of democracy, the enemies of our way of life, the terrorists that plague, that prowl our airspace and prowl our countries,” Netanyahu said Wednesday, hailing bilateral Israel-U.S. ties. The prime minister also praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s “historic” recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

[Photo: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem / YouTube]