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Friedman does not shape US foreign policy
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 26 - 03 - 2017

AFTER the Senate voted for him, David Freidman, the new US ambassador to Israel, becomes the first of President Donald Trump's selected foreign emissaries to take his post. He will also probably be the most controversial. Friedman is critical of the US goal of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict even though a two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict. He supports Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and raised funds for Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.
Most dangerous of all, Friedman backs moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Relocating the embassy would constitute a change in the rules of the game and in the foundations that have anchored the peace process since its launch decades ago.
Moving the embassy could well lead to the eruption of a popular uprising in Palestine, which would reverberate around the world and generate global sympathy and support for the Palestinians. The visit by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 2000 resulted in the second Palestinian Intifada, an uprising that lasted more than four years, leaving behind death and destruction. Moving the embassy would not pass without sparking similar, or even worse, repercussions.
Moving the embassy would amount to a blatant attack on national Palestinian rights. It would destroy the international convention regarding Jerusalem, namely UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which was passed in 1947 and asserts the status of Jerusalem as a separate entity.
Friedman has decided to live in his Jerusalem residence when he arrives in Israel. Another suggested means of deception would see the embassy remain in Tel Aviv, while the US ambassador carries out his duties from one of the three American consulates in Jerusalem. This would be another act of deception since the location where the ambassador works is what symbolizes the embassy, rather than the building itself.
A fervent supporter of Jewish settlements, opponent of Palestinian statehood and proponent of the US embassy shift, Friedman breaks with traditional views. However, the US should participate in the peace process according to a basic premise: its influence over the parties to the conflict is only as strong as the legitimacy it maintains with both as a fair and balanced arbiter. If Friedman has his way, the US will no longer be able to play the role of a broker or mediator in the peace process negotiations. Granting the Palestinians a state which is rightfully theirs is an essential diplomatic goal that would be undermined by public dismissal of the Palestinian quest, any US legitimization of Israeli settlement activity, questioning a two-state solution or moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Friedman's predecessors were all confirmed without a single vote against them. Friedman was approved in a close 52-46 vote in the Republican-run chamber, meaning almost half the Senate voted to oppose him. Democrats are concerned, and rightfully so. Friedman's appointment has been highly anticipated by right-wing Israelis, especially those living in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They are hopeful that his past support for the settlements will translate as US backing to boost more construction.
Trump, though, is not as hardline. He has remained non-committal to a two-state solution, saying he could live with either. And last month, during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's press conference in the US, Trump appeared to view continued Israeli settlement construction as detrimental to the peace process.
It is Trump, not Friedman, who counts for more. Ambassadors do not shape foreign policy. They are the messengers, carrying the message their presidents want to deliver. No more, no less.
As such, Friedman's appointment should not be construed as a signal to the world of a potential monumental shift in American foreign policy.


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