Diplomat Nides's settlement statements highly undiplomatic - editorial

By taking sides, Nides is ignoring the nature of his job and is making the situation worse, not better.

 US AMBASSADOR Thomas Nides arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on December 5, 2021, to present his credentials.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
US AMBASSADOR Thomas Nides arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on December 5, 2021, to present his credentials.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides this week used the word “infuriating” to describe settlement growth and condemned the Palestinians’ pay-for-slay principle for, among other things, giving “the haters” an excuse to oppose the Palestinian Authority. 

His comments, made during a talk with Americans for Peace Now, were not the language of a diplomat. And they were not conducive to the elusive peace he professes to seek.

Like any speaker, he obviously chose his words for his specific audience, however Nides went a step further. It was clear he identifies with the aims of the Left and the truth is that his sympathies are no secret. He has in the past said he would not travel to the settlements because “I’m trying not to do symbolic things that just makes it worse.” 

When speaking to a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem last month, Nides said the American role “is to make sure that people do not do stupid things.” 

This week, Nides was even less diplomatic and even more patronizing. “We can’t do stupid things that impede us for a two-state solution,” he told the virtual event on Tuesday. “We can’t have the Israelis doing settlement growth in east Jerusalem or the West Bank. I’m a bit of a nag on this, including the idea of settlement growth – which infuriates me, when they do things – just infuriates the situation, both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

 US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 2, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 2, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Nides said that he “would be lying” if he said that it was possible to avert “every single house that is built. I can’t stop everything, just so we are clear.” But it’s obvious he would like to halt building over the Green Line – building by Jews, that is.

The US ambassador said that he had fought to prevent the advancement of a 3,500-apartment project in the Ma’aleh Adumim area known as E1, saying it would be a “disaster.”

“It is a very important area which if [built] could cut off any possibility of a capital for the Palestinians,” Nides said, ignoring a glaringly obvious point. Building homes for Jews in the corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim does not prevent the Palestinians having a capital, but it would stop them being able to turn Jerusalem into their capital. The Palestinians already have a de facto capital in Ramallah which is under full PA control and it houses, among other things, the Palestinian parliament.

Nides’s ultimate aim of changing the status of Jerusalem from the capital of the State of Israel to a capital for Israel and the Palestinians was evident in other comments too. He said he recognizes that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” but added that “the final status of Jerusalem would have to be decided by the parties.” He also repeated the Biden administration’s pledge that it would reopen a consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians that had been a de facto embassy for the PA until former president Donald Trump closed it in 2019 and consolidated all the diplomatic and consular services in the newly inaugurated Jerusalem embassy.

Israel vehemently opposes reopening the consulate for the Palestinians in the Israeli capital. It is unprecedented for one country to maintain two diplomatic missions in the same city. A US office offering consular services in Ramallah would be far more accessible for the Palestinians living in the PA territories.

Addressing concerns for a possible escalation in violence when Ramadan and Passover coincide next month, Nides spoke out against the PA policy of paying monthly stipends to terrorists and their families – but not for the moral reasons that should come to mind.

“These martyr payments... have caused an enormous amount of problems,” Nides said, adding that they give the “haters” an excuse not to support the PA based on the argument that it is “paying for people who killed Jews.” In other words, paying the families of terrorists is not innately wrong for rewarding terror and encouraging more attacks, but because it serves as an excuse for the “haters.”

By taking sides, Nides is ignoring the nature of his job and is making the situation worse, not better. The US ambassador needs to remember the role of a diplomat and he should act as an ambassador in good faith.