US Ambassador Tom Nides said he would meet with settlers, but would not visit West Bank settlements because it is symbolically harmful.“It is not right for me today to go in my motorcade and go hang out in a settlement,” Nides told a Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He explained that he intended to visit all of Israel, but when asked about the settlements, he confirmed that he had no plans to visit them.“I am trying not to do things that aggravate people. I will meet with anyone who wants to meet with me. Any settler who lives in a settlement and wants to meet with me, come meet with me,” he said.“I will meet with anyone who has a view about settlements. I will meet with anyone who is Right, Left... I don’t care,” Nides said.
But when it comes to the settlements, he said, “I’m trying not to do symbolic things that just makes it worse.”Historically, US ambassadors to Israel have not crossed the pre-1967 lines as part of their formal duties and did not visit the settlements.
Former President Donald Trump changed that policy. Ambassador David Friedman, Trump’s appointee, was the first official in his post to formally visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which along with the Temple Mount, is Judaism’s holiest site.
Nides has reverted back to the prior policy, with one exception. Like Friedman, he too has visited the Western Wall. Nides noted that he has gone to the Western Wall scores of times since arriving in Israel last year and has visited with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.“I have gone to the Wall, the Kotel, four dozen times. I have a friend who is very sick with cancer. I go every day. I pray at the Wall. I don’t make a big fuss of it. I put a note in and I leave,” he said.
Rabinowitz has hosted him and they have appeared together in a few videos, Nides recalled. But Nides said that for political reasons he rejected an invitation to visit the excavation tunnels below.
The rabbi noted that Friedman had visited the tunnels, Nides recalled. He told him, “I know, that is great. But why do I need to do that? I love this place, but why do I need to go do something that will aggravate a bunch of people?”In speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nides said that the Biden administration is focused on a “vision of peace” but can not desire it more than the Israelis and Palestinians.
The American role in this “is to make sure that people do not do stupid things,” Nides said.“A one-state solution is not a solution. It’s not good for Israel. It’s not good for the Jews. It’s not good for anyone,” he said.
“It’s important for us to keep our eye on the prize, which is a strong democratic Jewish state,” Nides said.