Trump picks pro-settlement supporter as Israeli ambassador

Lawyer David Friedman says he looks forward to carrying out duties from Jerusalem

Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka and his nominee as US ambassador to Israel, lawyer  David Friedman, in 2010. Mr Friedman (57) said that he planned to “strengthen the bond” between the US and Israel and that he looked forward to “doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.   Photograph: Bradley C Bower/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka and his nominee as US ambassador to Israel, lawyer David Friedman, in 2010. Mr Friedman (57) said that he planned to “strengthen the bond” between the US and Israel and that he looked forward to “doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”. Photograph: Bradley C Bower/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Donald Trump plans to name an Orthodox Jewish lawyer with hardline conservative views on Israel as ambassador to the Jewish state, signalling a potential sharp turn in US policy in the region.

The US president-elect described David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who worked as an adviser to Mr Trump during his presidential campaign, as “a long-time friend and trusted adviser to me”.

The incoming president’s nominee opposes a two-state solution and believes the US embassy should be in Jerusalem, in line with Mr Trump’s campaign pledge and breaking with 68 years of tradition of maintaining the diplomatic outpost in Tel Aviv.

Mr Friedman (57) said in a statement that he planned to “strengthen the bond” between the US and Israel and that he looked forward to “doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.

Mr Trump said that “the bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m president” – a line interpreted as a thinly veiled reference to the tensions between the Obama White House and the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

While Israel has declared Jerusalem to be the country’s capital since 1950, the US and other countries do not regard the city as such, nor do they recognise Israel’s occupation of the Arab area of east Jerusalem following its capture during the 1967 Middle East war. They maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem is home to sites that are sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, while Palestinians consider the city as the future capital of a separate state.

An estimated 600,000 to 700,000 Jewish settlers live on land seized from Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the conflict 49 years ago.

Successive US administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have opposed the construction of Israeli settlements in areas that Palestinians claim for their future state, in line with the views of other world powers that these are major obstacles to efforts to restore peace in the region.

The Obama administration has been critical of Israel’s construction of settlements, despite approving large-scale military aid to the country.

Backing settlements

Mr Friedman said during the campaign that Mr Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and believed that the Republican did not view the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal, putting the Trump administration at odds with decades of American policy and international consensus.

The Long Island lawyer, a partner at the national law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, is a long-time supporter of Israel’s settler movement. He has served as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organisation that supports a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.

He told news agency AFP in October, after a pro-Trump rally in Jerusalem, that the then Republican presidential nominee was “tremendously sceptical” about the prospect that a two-state solution would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Six days before the election, Mr Friedman released a position paper with Jason Greenblatt, another of Mr Trump’s advisers on Israel, that promised increased US assistance to Israel and to maintain “defensible borders” for the country, a reference to the refusal to give up the settlements and return to the 1967 borders.

The liberal Jewish group J Street said it “vehemently opposed” Mr Trump’s choice of Mr Friedman, calling it “reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk”.

During the summer Mr Friedman condemned groups that were critical of Israel’s settlement policy. In a column for the hard-right Israel National News, he accused J Street supporters of being “far worse than kapos” – Jewish prisoners who assisted the Nazis in concentration camps during the Holocaust.