In a move which may signal a dramatic shift from eight years of policy toward Israel and the Middle East, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated New York bankruptcy attorney David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.
An Orthodox Jew and strong supporter of Israel, Mr. Trump described Mr. Friedman as one who would “maintain the special relationship between Israel and the U.S.”
A proponent of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, annexing the West Bank, expanding Jewish settlements and doubting the advantages of a two-state solution to the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli question, Friedman, 57, accepted the nomination and said he looked forward to performing his role “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Friedman is also a sharp critic of liberal Jewish groups in the U.S., once commenting that their views are a threat to the survival to Israel. Reserving special ire for supporters of public advocacy group, J Street, Friedman stated they are “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction.”
At stake is uprooting the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv and permanently moving the facility and staff to Jerusalem. As a candidate, Mr. Trump proposed such a move and Mr. Friedman is know to support the move.
Although Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, nations maintaining diplomatic relations with the Jewish state keep embassies in Tel Aviv. Some countries, including the U.S. retain a consular office in Jerusalem.
The road to conformation for Friedman is likely to contain obstacles: J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami called Mr. Friedman’s selection “reckless” and Secretary-General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, cautioned Trump over moving the embassy saying:
“No one should take any decisions which may preempt or prejudge (negotiations) because this will be the destruction of the peace process as a whole. If you were to take these steps of moving the embassy and annexing settlements in the West Bank, you are sending this region to more chaos, lawlessness and extremism.”
Partitioned by the UN in 1947, Jerusalem was considered an international zone. Following the 1948 War of Independence, Israel controlled parts of the city with Jordan controlling other quarters. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel took control of East Jerusalem and expanded its borders.
East Jerusalem is home to some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Judaism and Islam such as: Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
If executed, the move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would likely be interpreted as a formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and an indication Israel will never surrender the eastern portion of the city and no independent Palestinian state will exist with Jerusalem as its capital.
Foreign nations and the UN do not recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel.