Israeli officials are reported to be shocked and "astonished" after a U.S. official allegedly told them the Western Wall — Judaism's holiest site — is in the West Bank and "not your territory."
The exchange, reported by Israel's Channel 2 television, is threatening to create a fierce diplomatic storm as Israel gets ready for a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump later this week.
According to Channel 2, Netanyahu's team asked the U.S. official if the prime minister could join Trump at praying at the Western Wall.
The American reportedly shot back "no" because this is "not your territory" and said it is part of the West Bank, sparking a shouting match between the Israeli and American teams.
A White House spokesperson told VOA "these comments were not authorized by the White House. They do not reflect the U.S. position and certainly not the president's position."
The Western Wall, in east Jerusalem's Old City, is the remnant of the ancient temple, destroyed more than 2,000 years ago. It is Judaism's holiest religious site.
The area is also home to the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site.
Israel captured the Old City and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it to the rest of the city — a move the international community does not recognize.
The issue of the wall and the mosque is one of the most sensitive issues surrounding the Middle East peace process. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as a capital of a future state.
The diplomatic controversy erupted on the day the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, arrived to take up his new post.
Friedman's first stop was the Western Wall, where he said he "prayed for the president. I wished him success, especially on his upcoming trip."
Friedman is an orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.
But Trump has said Jewish settlements "don't help the [peace] process."
VOA's Steve Herman contributed to this report.