What will new hard-line US ambassador to Israel mean for Palestinians?

Published December 18th, 2016 - 07:34 GMT
Palestinians protest near Beit El in the West Bank (Wikimedia Commons)
Palestinians protest near Beit El in the West Bank (Wikimedia Commons)

He heads a group sued for war crimes in the occupied West Bank, supports an undivided Jerusalem as Israeli capital and rejects the two-state solution. And he has just been announced as the new US ambassador to Israel.

Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, was announced as his envoy to Israel on Thursday:

The nomination is highly controversial, with left-wing Israeli groups already having expressed their discontent with the choice. J Street, the leftist pro-Israeli group, has claimed the move is “reckless.”

Meanwhile, many others have expressed pleasure with the pick for ambassador, and his anticipated policies. Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Friedman had “the potential to be the greatest US ambassador to Israel ever”. Others added praise on social media:

What, however, will his appointment mean for Palestinians?

The most immediate question is the location of the US Embassy in Israel. While the Embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, Friedman has said that he is looking forward to taking up his post in “the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.

The decision would be a dramatic turnaround from years of US policy aimed to appease tensions in the region. Jerusalem is divided and highly contentious territory. In 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organization declared Jerusalem to be the capital of the State of Palestine. On Saturday they warned that any move of the Embassy to Jerusalem would result in the "destruction" of peace talks.

The transfer would be symbolically powerful, undermining ambitions for a two-state solution with a split Jerusalem serving as Israeli and Palestinian capitals. It would also be a slap in the face for Palestinians struggling for control over the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount.

Opinion on Twitter has been as divided as the city itself:

Some have expressed concerns about Friedman’s desire to undermine the two-state solution completely by annexing the West Bank in its totality. This would contradict years of peace efforts focused on the formation of two independent nations. To date, a total of 137 states at the UN have recognized the State of Palestine, to be based primarily in the West Bank.

Additionally, Friedman’s pro-settlement activities have shown his unconcern for Palestinian sovereignty. The American lawyer disputes accepted opinion that settlement building in the West Bank is illegal under international law.

He also heads an organization, American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center, which raises around two million dollars a year for the illegal Beit El Settlement to the north of Ramallah. Along with a number of others, the association is currently facing a lawsuit by a group of Palestinians for the theft of their land and other Israeli war crimes.

His support for settlements has been met with considerable criticism:

Added to this, in his November 16-point action plan, Friedman advocated considerable measures to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is peacefully resisting what it sees as Israeli violations to Palestinian human rights. The movement has had a number of high-profile victories so far, including rapidly increasing worldwide support, and high-profile divestments from Israel.

Overall, then, the appointment of Friedman, who has been branded as more hardline than right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is deeply worrying for Palestinians. It is also a source of worry for many liberal Israelis and American Jews.


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