Sarah Palin skips Bethlehem in visit to Israel

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 21, 2011 

JERUSALEM — It's a well-trod path for presidential contenders, and now Sarah Palin has made the trek: a visit to Israel.

Wearing a Star-of-David necklace, Fox News Channel commentator and former governor of Alaska met on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu and right-wing politician and settlement supporter Danny Danon.

She toured the Western Wall tunnels, one of Judaism's holiest sites, believed to be part of the biblical Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

But she skipped a visit the adjacent Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site to Muslims, and also cancelled a planned trip to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, one of Christianity's most revered sites, though it wasn't clear why.

Her white van was seen driving up to the main checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem Monday afternoon, but neither she nor her husband, Todd, exited the vehicle or spoke with Israeli soldiers guarding the checkpoint. Her car was stopped just outside the 25-foot wall that runs alongside the checkpoint.

Israeli officials said she hadn't coordinated her visit with Palestinian authorities, though any person possessing a U.S. passport can enter Bethlehem after showing their identification to the soldiers.

Palestinian officials expressed disappointment that Palin hadn't visited them, but added they were "not surprised." They pointed to a controversial post on Palin's Facebook page last year in which she said, "As Israel makes concessions (and is still criticized by the Obama Administration), Arab leaders are just sitting back waiting for the White House to further pressure Israel. The Obama Administration needs to open its eyes and recognize that it is only Iran and her terrorist allies that benefit from this manufactured Israeli controversy."

Palin's comments since arriving Sunday were strongly pro-Israel. "I'm so thankful to be able to be here, and I'm thankful to know the Israel-American connection will grow and strengthen as the peace negotiations continue," she said.

Danon told reporters that he was certain Palin would become, "a stronger advocate of Israel in the future."

Monday night, Palin was scheduled to tour the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and dine with Netanyahu.

Palin's visit followed those of several other prominent Republicans, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. (and fellow Fox commentator) Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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