JERUSALEM — Jerusalem’s ancient Western Wall made headlines again on Tuesday. The reason: Donald Trump.
And, by chance, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.
In less than a week, Trump will visit Israel for the first time, and part of his 24-hour trip here will include a short stop at the Jewish holy site.
On Monday, however, Israel’s Channel 2 News reported that members of a U.S. advance team preparing the presidential tour told Israeli representatives that the Western Wall is not part of Israeli territory and therefore Israel could not be involved in planning that part of Trump’s trip.
While it is customary for visiting dignitaries to go to the Western Wall — the outer wall of the raised esplanade that is called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif by Muslims — U.S. presidents usually defer the visit because that part of Jerusalem sits on territory that was under Jordanian control before 1967.
Israel declared sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem after 1967, but Palestinians and most of the world dispute that status.
If Trump does go to the wall, he would be the first incumbent U.S. president to do so.
While out scouting the site with U.S. representatives, the Israeli team requested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany Trump and his family to the wall. The Americans refused, saying it was to be a “private visit.”
Then, according to the Channel 2 report, two members of the U.S. team told the Israeli team to leave, that they wanted to be there alone.
“This 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 reportedly told the Israelis.
Netanyahu’s office was shocked to hear the statement, said an official speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
“Israel is convinced that this statement contradicts President Trump’s policy, as was expressed by his recent opposition to a U.N. Security Council Resolution,” the official said.
Israeli media outlet Walla! reported later that the White House tried to distance itself from the comment, saying that it did not reflect the position of the United States or of the president.
A final meeting is expected to be held Tuesday with the White House advance team, in which the timetable for the visit will be finalized.
Trump is also scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the Masada heritage site, as well as hold meetings with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu.
He will also meet in either Ramallah or Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
So, how does Steven Tyler fit in? The frontman for Aerosmith, which is set to perform Wednesday night in Tel Aviv, had his own private visit to the Western Wall on Monday — at the same time that incoming U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had arrived to say his prayers before taking up his new office.
The long-haired rocker and the gray-haired diplomat shook hands at the ancient site and made for a curious photo op.
Friedman presented his credentials to President Rivlin on Tuesday.