WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump has nominated one of his bankruptcy attorneys, David Friedman, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Like Trump, Friedman has absolutely no experience in diplomacy or government service.
However, Friedman does have a long history of working against the rights of the Palestinian people.
As a writer for the Israeli far right publication Arutz Sheva, Friedman has railed against the creation of a Palestinian state and for annexing all Palestinian land on the West Bank into Israel, which would force the Palestinian population either to migrate or live in designated, isolated, areas reminiscent of the Bantustans of South Africa during the era of apartheid.
This flies directly in the face of what has been the official policy of the U.S. for decades: supporting, on paper at least, the two-state solution. As Israeli commentators have pointed out, Friedman stands to the right of right wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reaffirmed his own support for “two states for two peoples” just days before Mr. Friedman’s appointment.
Furthermore, while most nations in the world consider Jewish settlements on the West Bank to be illegal, Friedman, as head of the American Friends of the Beit El settlement, has raised billions to support them. Beit El was established in 1977 on a hill on the outskirts of the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah. Today, about 1,300 families live there. They run a pre-military academy and house the right wing newspaper Arutz Sheva.
Israeli right-wingers have always encouraged the building of such settlements. They are sprawling developments built for Jewish Israelis with the support of the Israeli government on traditionally Palestinian land. Their existence shrinks the land available for a Palestinian state. Or, if a truly independent Palestinian state is ever created, they could serve as permanent anti-Palestinian enclaves in its midst.
President Obama has called the existence of settlements one of the main impediments to peace between Israel and Palestine and has urged a halt to their construction.
In that the nomination of Friedman, however, the anti-Palestinian right wingers in Israel believe they will be free to expand or build settlements anywhere they wish.
The era of a Palestinian state is over,” extreme right winger Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said.
Of course, this is not true. What is true is that the nomination of Friedman greatly exacerbates the possibility of an all-out conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The Washington Post speculates that Trump simply does not know what he’s doing, that he does not understand the consequences of nominating Friedman.
There is a lot of evidence that The Washington Post is wrong and that Trump fully supports Friedman’s views.
For example, according to the Jerusalem Post, in 2003, Trump donated $10,000 to the Beit El settlement in “honor of his friend David Friedman.”
Furthermore, for some time, Trump, on his own, has repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a measure ardently supported by Friedman.
No matter who came up with the idea first, will be like throwing a lit match on a pile of dry straw.
Both Palestinians and Israelis claim that Jerusalem is the “true” capital of their nation. In order to avoid taking sides, despite a measure passed by Congress in the ‘90s, the U.S. and every other nation has located embassies elsewhere. Ambassadors to Israel are stationed in Tel Aviv and ambassadors to Palestine work out of Ramallah.
A Washington Post editorial states that “the two previous presidents who promised during their election campaigns to move the embassy — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — later backed off for good reason. They were worried a mostly symbolic step would touch off a backlash against Israel and the United States across the Arab world, damage the quiet improvement in relations between the Jewish state and Sunni Arab regimes, and possibly touch off violence by Palestinians.”
Regardless, observers believe that Trump and Friedman are likely to go through with the move.
Some advocates for an independent Palestinian state are saying that such a move simply unmasks the real policy that, despite its rhetoric, the U.S. has been following for years.
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told the Mondoweiss newsletter “for decades the U.S. has done a sort of ‘politically correct’ dance where they have consistently supported Israel as it colonizes what is left of Palestinian territory while saying they support a Palestinian state. The nomination of Friedman signals that the U.S. will do away with this farce, and “just own what they have done for years which is support the apartheid reality on the ground.”
Munayyer was referring to the fact that although verbal criticism by U.S. presidents has probably slowed the creation of new settlements, nothing has been done to stop them. There are now 400,000 settlers in 300 communities in the West Bank.
Furthermore, confining Palestinians in Bantustan-type enclaves is already being done by Israel. Those areas in the West Bank under official control of the Palestinian Authority are cut off from each other and are completely surrounded by territory controlled by Israel.
Moreover, the Obama administration just increased military aid to Israel to 38 billion over the next ten years.
Nevertheless, despite the overall disconnect between U.S. rhetoric and actions, progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been inching along. And as Issa Amro and Ariel Gold write in Mondoweiss, the majority of Americans, including members of the American Jewish community, are eager for peace between the two peoples.
Speaking for Americans for Peace now, Lara Friedman (no relation to David), says “We are opposing the nomination of David Friedman, who is by every measure unqualified and unfit to represent the American people and U.S. interests. He is a hate-monger and a zealot whose beliefs are anathema to the interests of both Israel and the United States
Furthermore, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, D. – Ill, issued a statement saying, in part:
“At a time when we need an ambassador to Israel who has demonstrated the highest level of diplomatic skills, President-elect Trump has named a bankruptcy lawyer with no foreign policy credentials; an individual who has antagonized and insulted both Jews and Arabs with his far-right statements and divisive rhetoric. His appointment would make a very dangerous situation even worse.”