President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of his bankruptcy lawyer as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel was cheered by right-wing Israelis Friday as an early Hanukkah gift and by Palestinians as a death knell for an independent state.
Trump announced Thursday that he would nominate David Friedman, president of American Friends of Bet-El Institutions, a charity that benefits Jewish settlements on West Bank land controlled by Israel that Palestinians want for a state of their own. Trump called Friedman a "long-time friend and trusted advisor."
Friedman has been a staunch defender of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which the U.S. government has long condemned as an obstacle to a negotiated peace agreement that would set boundaries for a new Palestinian State.
In another departure from long-standing U.S. policy, Friedman — like Trump — favors moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel's capital. Friedman said in a statement that he looked forward to serving in the post "from the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Like most other nations, the U.S. does not have an embassy in Jerusalem pending a final resolution of Palestinians' claims on east Jerusalem as their own capital. Israel has vowed it will never allow the city to be divided.
Columnist Herb Keinon wrote in the Jerusalem Post that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has clashed with President Obama over U.S. policy on settlements and the nuclear deal with Iran, could be excused if he danced a jig after hearing the news.
"As Trump's trusted bankruptcy lawyer, he is undeniably close to the president-elect, and will be able to whisper into his ear. And what he will be whispering into Trump’s ear is sure to be quite different from what some of the veteran hands in the State Department will be saying," Keinon said.
Reaction was muted in the Palestinian press to Friedman's nomination because Palestinians already consider the United States "so biased toward them that this (nomination) is not surprising. Too many statement about settlements were not followed even by the Obama administration," said Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization' central council.
Friedman told the Times of Israel in November that Trump will not “dictate to Israel where it can and cannot build” in the West Bank.
Trump “doesn’t see Israel as in need of any particular correction at this point," and “a two-state solution is not a priority," he said. "I don’t think he is wed to any particular outcome. A two-state solution is a way, but it’s not the only way.”
Barghouti predicted Friday that people in the Israeli government will see such statements "as a green light to enhance policies that would destroy the two-state solution."
"And many Palestinians will rethink the two-state solution," Barghouti told USA TODAY.
Candidate Trump's embrace of Israeli policies may ease once he's president
Every previous U.S. envoy to Israel for decades has supported a U.S. policy that opposed Israeli construction of communities for its Jewish citizens in the West Bank, an area that Israel seized from Jordan in a1967 war, and agreed in principle in 1995 to set aside for a future Palestinian state
President George W. Bush called unauthorized Israeli settlements "an impediment to peace." President Obama came into office calling for a settlement freeze, which lasted a few months until peace negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas failed to materialize.
In October, the State Department "strongly condemned" the Israeli government's approval of yet another settlement construction project after many others that were pursued during his two terms in office.
Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Washington when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin negotiated the 1993 Oslo peace accord, said of Friedman: “An ambassador who’s very close to the president can be a very effective ambassador."