Trump's Pick for Ambassador to Israel Looks Forward to Serving in Jerusalem, Not Tel Aviv
by PATRICK GOODENOUGH
December 16, 2016
(CNSNews.com) - David Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee as U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Thursday he looked forward to carrying out his duties "from the U.S. embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem."
The latest signal that Trump may - unlike predecessors from both parties - keep his campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital in line with U.S. law will not go down well with supporters of Palestinian statehood. Liberal Jewish groups were quick to protest.
In a statement naming his attorney and adviser to the campaign on Jewish issues as nominee to be the next ambassador to Israel, Trump did not himself mention the issue of the embassy's location.
But Friedman expressed his intention "to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem."
Just three days earlier, transition spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is "a very big priority" for Trump.
Conway recalled he had pledged to do so during the campaign, "and as president-elect, I've heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly."
The Republican Jewish Coalition, in a statement welcoming Trump's announcement, said it looked forward to working with Friedman and the administration "to move the U.S. embassy to the eternal capital of Israel, Jerusalem."
As other priorities the RJC mentioned targeting Iran with crippling sanctions and "repair[ing] relations with our greatest ally in the Middle East that have eroded over the last eight years."
But the National Jewish Democratic Council said Friedman was "not experienced enough" for the post.
"Hasn't ever been a less experienced pick for US Amb to Israel," the NJDC tweeted, accusing Trump of not taking the U.S.-Israel relationship seriously.
The left-wing Jewish lobby group J Street signaled a tough battle ahead.
"Trump's pick of Friedman for Israel Amb is anathema to values that underlie US-Israel relationship," tweeted the group's president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. "We'll fight this with all we've got."
In a statement provided by J Street, Ben-Ami elaborated, saying the group was "vehemently opposed to the nomination."
Alluding to U.S. Senate confirmation hearings to come, he said, "Senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values this nominee represents."
"As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials and who has attacked liberal Jews who support two states as ‘worse than kapos,' Friedman should be beyond the pale for Senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel."
The "worse than kapos" reference comes from an op-ed Friedman wrote last summer in which he compared J Street to the prisoners used by the Nazis as functionaries in their World War II concentration camps.
Friedman described J Street activists a "smug advocates of Israel's destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas."
Another U.S. Jewish group opposed to Jewish settlements and supportive of an independent Palestinian state, Americans for Peace Now, said it was "alarmed" by the nomination.
"David Friedman has called the two-state solution an ‘illusion,' an ‘anachronism,' and ‘a narrative that needs to end.' He recently said that he does not view Israeli West Bank settlements as an obstacle to peace," the group said.
"We oppose Friedman's nomination. We will fight it both on Capitol Hill and in the public sphere."
‘Could hinder the peace process'
Last March, Trump told an AIPAC audience that as president, "We will move the U.S. Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem."
The move would be in line with law, passed by Congress by large margins (374-37 in the House, 93-5 in the Senate) in 1995, which recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and stated that "the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.
An inbuilt waiver authority allowed the president to postpone the move, in the interests of "national security," for consecutive six-monthly periods.
President Clinton warned the legislation "could hinder the peace process." He allowed it to become law, but without his signature.
Two weeks after the mandated deadline for the embassy move passed, Clinton issued the first "Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act" notice. Presidents Bush and Obama followed suit every six months.
The U.S. and international community at large does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over eastern parts of Jerusalem, which fell under Jordanian control between 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967.
The U.S. currently has three consular buildings in Jerusalem - one on Agron Street, not far from the Prime Minister's official residence in West Jerusalem; one on Nablus Street in East Jerusalem, which deals primarily with Palestinian issues; and a third, new building in the suburb of Arnona, located in territory that was no-man's land between Israeli- and Jordanian lines from 1948-1967.
This large new building, on David Flusser Street, is a complex built over 24,000 square meters, and includes a 1,000 square meter consular section and parking for 200 vehicles. In 2014 the U.S. government reportedly bought the adjoining land, on which a former hotel, used as a residence for Russian immigrants, is located.
Jerusalem contains sites revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, including the Temple Mount, Judaism's most sacred site, and the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest.
Israel says its claim to Jerusalem goes back 3,000 years to the reign of King David from the city, which he made capital of his kingdom.
The Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future independent state in Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders characterize the issue as a critical one. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization's founding charter, adopted in 1964, contained not a single reference to the city.
Courtesy of CNSNews.com
Patrick covered government and politics in South Africa and the Middle East before joining CNSNews.com in 1999. Since then he has launched foreign bureaus for CNSNews.com in Jerusalem, London and the Pacific Rim. From October 2006 to July 2007, Patrick served as Managing Editor at the organization's world headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Now back in the Pacific Rim, as International Editor he reports on politics, international relations, security, terrorism, ethics and religion, and oversees reporting by CNSNews.com's roster of international stringers.