Trump's pick for envoy to Israel expects embassy in Jerusalem
US Preisdent-elect Trump announces he plans on nominating attorney David Friedman as ambassador to Israel; Friedman has been a strong supporter of Israel and believes Trump will make good on campaign promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem; J Street opposes nomination, calling Friedman's support of settlement expansion 'reckless.'
US President-elect Donald Trump said on Thursday he will nominate bankruptcy attorney David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, and Friedman said he looked forward to taking up his post in Jerusalem, implying a move from Tel Aviv that would mark a break in longstanding US foreign policy and anger the Muslim world.
While campaigning for the presidency, Trump pledged to switch the embassy from Tel Aviv, where it has been located for 68 years, to Jerusalem, all but enshrining the city as Israel's capital regardless of international objections.
"(Friedman) has been a long-time friend and trusted advisor to me. His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East," Trump said in a statement issued by his team on Thursday.
Trump made clear during his campaign that he would support Israel in a number of critical areas, said he would not put pressure on Israel to engage in talks with the Palestinians.
The United States and other powers do not regard Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Virtually all embassies to Israel are located in or around Tel Aviv.
Friedman stated that he would work tirelessly to "strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a fractious relationship with US President Barack Obama, has welcomed Trump's election, chatting with him by phone and posting a video on Facebook promoting ties with the United States.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli embassy in Washington on the news.
The statement does not detail how Friedman could work in Jerusalem. However, Trump advisers have insisted in recent days that the president-elect will follow through on his call for moving the embassy.
"He has made that promise," Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters Thursday. "I can guarantee you, just generally, he's a man who is going to accomplish many things very quickly."
One option Trump allies have discussed would involve Friedman, if confirmed by the Senate, working out of an existing US consulate in Jerusalem. According to a person who has discussed the plan with Trump advisers, the administration would essentially deem the facility the American embassy by virtue of the ambassador working there.
An advocate of the settlements
Friedman is also considered far-right on issues, including settlement building and has advocated for the annexation of the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
The Obama administration has been highly critical of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most countries view all Israeli settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians seek for their own state as illegal.
The Palestinians, who want to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, say settlements are a fundamental obstacle to peace. The last US-backed talks on statehood collapsed in 2014.
J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group based in Washington, said it was "vehemently opposed" to Friedman's nomination.
"This nomination is reckless, putting America's reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk," the statement said.
The Zionist Organization for America, a conservative Jewish-American pro-Israel group welcomed the nomination, saying he had "the potential to be the greatest US ambassador to Israel ever."
Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, said Friedman's nomination "was designed to send a signal that there will be significant break in tone, style and perhaps substance from the Obama administration" in its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
"The peace process is just dead right now," Miller said, alluding to the Obama administration's failed efforts. But he said it was too early to see Friedman's nomination as Trump's disavowal of a two-state solution.
Miller noted that Trump's aides have sent conflicting signals on whether they are serious about acting quickly on his promise to move the embassy, and that it was unclear whether that would happen.