Trump envoy Friedman arrives in Israel amid embassy debate

Friedman strongly favors moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as investing in settlement building.

May 15, 2017 17:50
2 minute read.
David Friedman

Vice President Mike Pence hosts a swearing in ceremony for US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (C) at the Executive office in Washington, US, March 29, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)

David Friedman, the newly-designated US Ambassador to Israel, arrived on Monday afternoon to the country that he will be living and working in for the duration of US President Donald Trump's time in office. Friedman has a full schedule with visits to the Western Wall and President Reuven Rivlin's residence on the agenda for the coming days.

Trump's pick for ambassador was seen as controversial by many in the US Jewish community. Friedman faced heavy criticism from the political Left and American Jewish organizations for his rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign, in which he suggested former president Barack Obama was antisemitic and called J Street, a left-wing Jewish organization which advocates for a two-state solution, “worse than kapos.” He apologized for those remarks in his Senate testimony in March.

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Friedman was approved by the Senate on March 23 of this year. The vote saw an unprecedented partisan split over a diplomatic appointee: Only two Democrats, Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined a united Republican caucus in favor of Friedman’s nomination.

Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who has aligned himself with the Israeli Right in the past, strongly favors moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as investing in settlement building in the West Bank.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is among top priorities for the Israeli Right. While Trump strongly backed the move during his election campaign, some in his administration have suggested that the Trump Administration may be wavering in its commitment to relocation.

Speaking with Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the president's decision will be informed "by the parties involved" in the Middle East peace process.

"He wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine," the secretary continued. "And so I think in large measure the president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday in response that moving the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would only help the peace process progress.

"The transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem not only will not harm the peace process, but the opposite," the Prime Minister's Office said.  "It will advance (the process) by correcting a historic injustice and by smashing the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel."
David Friedman taking issue with the conventional demographic wisdom that a two-state solution was necessary to maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

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