It’s not a big surprise, but Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, turns out to be the latest American lawyer for Israel. Friedman gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post and a two-word quote has become the headline round the world. Friedman, who has supported one of these illegal settlements himself, referred to the “alleged occupation.” The Guardian reports the outrage from Palestinians:
Demanding clarification from the US a Palestinian official said: “Our understanding is that when someone has an official position, like being an ambassador, this person does no longer speak in a personal capacity. Mr Friedman should realise that denying facts doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. He has an extensive record of attacks against the national rights of the Palestinian people, including funding illegal colonial-settlements and participating in celebrations of the Israeli occupation. We call upon the US administration to clarify their position.”
Here is the interview in the the Jerusalem Post, Friedman’s first sit-down.
Some highlights. Friedman is trying to watch his words:
“I don’t want to suggest that my views have really changed very much. Maybe the rhetoric has changed,” he told us.
“Obviously, you become a diplomat. You change your rhetoric. You have an official job. You work for the United States government. You respect the chain of command.”
Throughout the interview, Friedman puts the entire blame for the failure of the peace process on Palestinians, and frames the conflict from the Israeli point of view.
“As long as there is the culture of hate, as long as there is financing of terror, as long as there is the type of threats that existed and were created in the evacuation of Gaza, Israel can’t afford another failed experiment. It’s not a function, it’s just not a function of ideology. It’s a function of what can be done and what can’t be done…”
Here’s the throwaway reference to an “alleged occupation.”
“I think the American Jewish community tends to look at Israel somewhat myopically,” he said. The Right, he said, is portrayed as believing that peace is not possible. The Left, he explained, is portrayed as believing that only if the “alleged occupation” ended would Israel become a better society.
The Guardian checked the quote: “One of the two journalists who conducted the interview confirmed to the Guardian that Friedman had been accurately quoted. A US official insisted that Friedman’s comments did not mark a change in US policy.”
It’s hardly surprising that Friedman would pooh-pooh the occupation. Friedman was chairman of American Friends of Beit El, an illegal West Bank settlement.
Friedman is scathing about the last act of the Obama administration: UN Security Council resolution 2334, which called the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law. The then-US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, abstained from the vote in December 2016, allowing the measure to pass 14-0-1. Friedman:
“I thought it was an absolute betrayal of Israel by the Obama administration, as sharp a betrayal as any president I think has ever inflicted upon Israel. Of course, in the aftermath of that, the president wanted to signal a change, and I think that was well within his thinking when he appointed me to be the ambassador.”
The Post asks about the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump.
“Phenomenal. I think they have a lot in common.”
The Embassy will be moving.
Moving the embassy is a matter of “when,” not “if.” The debate inside the administration, he said, centers now around the timing. “It’s something we think about all the time,” he said.
The Israeli colonies in the West Bank are no obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state.
“If you listened to the Obama administration, you would think that the settlements had overtaken the West Bank,” he said. “It’s still under 2% of the territory. I am personally convinced that there’s nothing in the current status quo with regards to settlements that precludes the resolution of the Palestinian [issue].”
OK, settlements are a legitimate issue, “along with the other 20 areas of discussion.” But Palestinians are to blame for much bigger problems.
“[S]ettlements and terrorism do not belong in the same sentence,” he stressed. “Not the same paragraph, not the same report, because the killing of innocent life, of innocent civilian life, is so much more abhorrent and repugnant and inconsistent with a peace process than the building of apartments.”
Aaron David Miller famously said that Bill Clinton’s negotiating team at Camp David acted as “Israel’s lawyer” (and Clinton ran in favor of settlements). Everything we are learning about Trump’s team is it is worse on this score; and even the aged Palestinian leadership has expressed outrage at the bias.