Trump Chooses Settlements Supporter as Ambassador to Israel

  • David Friedman’s pick may signal major shift in U.S. policy
  • Nominee opposes two-state solution, backs Israeli settlements

David Friedman with Donald and Ivanka Trump.

Photographer: Bradley C. Bower/Bloomberg

President-elect Donald Trump nominated lawyer David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, choosing a trusted friend who opposes the two-state solution with Palestinians in a move that may herald a major shift in U.S. policy in the region.

Trump called Friedman a “long-time friend and trusted adviser to me” in a statement Thursday. “The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m President,” he said, in a reference to tensions between President Barack Obama’s administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Friedman’s views run counter to decades of U.S. policy toward Israel. While officials acknowledge that progress toward peace has stalled in recent years, the U.S. continues to seek an independent Palestinian state, and Obama’s team has spoken out with increased exasperation about Israeli settlement activity under Netanyahu.

“This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Washington-based organization J Street, which advocates a two-state solution. “Senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values this nominee represents.”

For a QuickTake on U.S.-Israel ties, click here

Friedman, meanwhile, has said supporters of J Street are “worse than kapos,” the Jews who oversaw fellow concentration camp prisoners under the Nazis during World War II. He told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in June that Trump might back Israel seizing parts of the West Bank, comments he later sought to walk back.

Friedman’s position on the two-state solution runs counter to that of another Trump nominee, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, who has been tapped for Defense secretary. Mattis warned Israel in a 2013 speech that time was running out for it to reverse its West Bank settlement project.

"We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported," he said. The chances for it "are starting to ebb because of the settlements and where they’re at, are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option."

Netanyahu Pleased

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a text message that the ministry will wait for the U.S. nomination to be approved before commenting. A person in Netanyahu’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Israeli leader is pleased with the appointment and looks forward to working closely with Friedman, knowing he has Trump’s full confidence.

Palestinians “will deal positively” with Trump toward a two-state solution, Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat said at a dinner for journalists and diplomats Friday in the West Bank. But he also warned of the “destruction of the peace process” if U.S. policy shifts sharply.

Embassy Move

Friedman is president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, a group that raises money for the West Bank settlement of Bet El. As a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP with a specialty in bankruptcy, he has represented Trump in Atlantic City, New Jersey, legal cases.

Friedman advocates moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, another move that would be certain to inflame tensions with the Palestinians and others in the region. Since 1995, U.S. presidents have used their authority to issue waivers to bypass a law that directs the embassy to be moved to the city from Tel Aviv. Palestinians contest Israeli control of the city and most nations recognize that it would be divided under an agreement to end the Six-Day War in 1967.

“I intend 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,” Friedman said in the statement.

Jason Miller, spokesman for Trump’s transition team, told reporters Friday that moving the embassy is an action the president-elect “remains firmly committed to. And with Mr. Friedman joining the team, obviously this is another like-minded individual who shares the same viewpoint.”

Some Israeli lawmakers took to Twitter to welcome Friedman’s nomination. Education Minister Naftali Bennett called Friedman a “great friend of Israel,” while Yehuda Glick, a Knesset member in Netanyahu’s Likud party, described him as a “lover of Jerusalem.”

“I look forward to working with Mr. Friedman, the new U.S. ambassador and a great friend of Israel, in his rightful office in our capital, Jerusalem,” said Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party.

— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs, and Alisa Odenheimer

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