By Daniel C. Kurtzer

Donald Trump’s Israel ambassador pick is hazardous to peace

December 17, 2016 - 17:19

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s selection of David Friedman as United States ambassador to Israel is a serious mistake that should be rectified. Spoken and published statements by Friedman, a 57-year-old bankruptcy lawyer in New York, about Israel and American policies in the Mideast suggest he is unsuitable to represent America in one of the most high-pressure diplomatic positions in the world.

This call to withdraw Friedman’s name also reflects a sober assessment of the damage that could be caused to American interests and to Trump’s presidency by the reckless words for which Friedman is already known.
American presidents have long bestowed diplomatic assignments on unqualified loyalists and campaign donors. The appointments to Israel, however, had been an exception because of the significance of the issues the ambassador must deal with every day. It is therefore regrettable that someone so lacking in experience and knowledge — and sadly, who appears to have little interest in broadening his understanding — will represent the United States in Israel.
Friedman is unqualified for the position, but more important, he holds extreme views on the very issues that he will need to manage as a diplomat. Friedman would be representing not the American people but a small, extreme minority of Americans who have in mind the interests of a small, extreme minority in Israel.
Friedman has been publicly arguing that Israel has a right to build settlements and annex parts of the West Bank. He believes that the United States should recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He considers pro-peace groups such as J Street the equivalent of the Jewish kapos who collaborated with the Nazis at concentration camps.
His appointment suggests that Trump is comfortable with these positions, which is extremely perilous and unwise. If Trump does not agree with Friedman, but has appointed him because of personal ties and loyalty, then it is clear that Trump either does not know or does not care that the Friedman appointment could severely damage the United States and his administration.
--------- An abruptly new direction
Through his other appointments thus far, Trump has made it clear that he wants to take American policy in an abruptly new direction. In the Middle East, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump’s approach is a prescription for trouble and the loss of American credibility.
The consequences of acting upon Friedman’s public suggestions are clearly dangerous. Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem — not a pressing issue for most Israelis — will inspire riots across the Islamic world. The United States will rightly be accused of violating the very advice we have given to others to avoid taking unilateral actions on inflammatory issues.
Supporting Israeli settlement expansion will bring a quick death to the dream of a two-state solution, the only solution to this conflict to which a majority of Israelis and Palestinians both have subscribed. The demise of the two-state solution will please right-wing Israelis and their right-wing American supporters such as Friedman. But would that be in the interests of the United States and the Trump administration?
------------ Friedman’s strategy
Friedman’s strategy of denigrating American civil society groups that support peace in the region will deepen the demonization of political opponents that marks our current political discourse. After his election, Trump suggested that he wanted to bridge divisions within our country. Friedman proudly announces that he wants to widen and deepen those divisions. Will Trump’s stated desire to heal or will Friedman’s divisive calls define the direction of the incoming administration?
In his first interview after the election, Trump told the The Wall Street Journal that he wanted to make the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians and end “the war that never ends.” How could he believe that appointing Friedman, whose views are congruent with those of the extreme right in Israel, will make a peace deal easier? Does Trump not understand that the realization of any of the positions advocated by Friedman would drive the Palestinians (and the wider Arab world) away from the negotiating table?
Every action by the American ambassador to Israel is monitored closely and every word spoken by him dissected for hidden meaning. Trump’s predecessors always chose a representative in Tel Aviv who could possibly advance our interests or at least not hurt them by wild comments and inappropriate actions. Trump would be wise to follow the tradition of appointing an experienced professional as our ambassador to Israel. Friedman is not that person.
(Source: The NYT)

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