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'We will support you by every possible means:' David Friedman arrives in Israel

May 16, 2017 9:54 P.M. (Updated: May 17, 2017 7:53 P.M.)
Israeli flags are seen outside the office of telecom operator Partner Communications in Rosh Haain, on June 11, 2015 (AFP/Gil Cohen Magen)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- US President Donald Trump’s pick for US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman embarked on his first official trip to Israel on Monday, as the ultraright, pro-settler ambassador reportedly told Israeli leaders that he and Trump would support Israel “by every possible means.”

Friedman’s first stop after landing in Israel was the Western Wall, a holy Jewish site located in occupied East Jerusalem and adjacent to Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the ambassador “prayed for Donald Trump.”

On Tuesday, Friedman met with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem and presented his credentials, becoming the official ambassador to Israel. According to Israeli daily Haaretz, Rivlin told Friedman that the “countries of the world” should recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital.

Friedman has been an open supporter of recognizing an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which flies in the face of Palestinian aspirations centered on East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future, independent Palestinian state -- long considered the most viable solution for ending the conflict.

Trump’s campaign promise of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be seen as the first step to this drastic abdication of longstanding US policy that has largely adhered to international standards on Israel-Palestine, which maintains East Jerusalem as an intricate part of occupied Palestinian territory, despite Israel’s de facto annexation of the territory.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.

During his meeting with Rivlin, Friedman reportedly said he “received a mandate” from Trump to support Israel "by every possible means.”

Later, Friedman met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem, which Netanyahu called the “eternal capital of the Jewish people” when greeting Friedman.

However, reports also emerged Tuesday that Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster twice refused to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel.

The day prior, American diplomats stationed at the US consulate in East Jerusalem told representatives of Netanyahu's office that the Western Wall was part of the occupied West Bank, and refused to hold talks with Israeli officials about arrangements for Trump’s planned visit to the site.

Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, has directly supported Israel’s settler movement and announced his disdain for the two-state solution -- the internationally recognized solution for the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He has positioned himself as a divisive and controversial figure in Israeli-Palestinian politics, accusing former US President Barack Obama of being an “anti-Semite” and comparing American Jews who oppose the half-century occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to prisoners who served as guards in Nazi concentration camps.

Friedman also serves as president of the American Friends in Beit El Yeshiva -- a nonprofit group that supports the illegal settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. His name appears on several buildings in the settlement that he had directly funded with his organization.

According to Haaretz, the fund raises approximately $2 million in tax deductible donations every year from donors in the US to support the settlement -- considered illegal under international law. Pro-settler organizations like Friedman’s, which are 501(c) (3) registered charities in the US, directly fund illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and have been subject to a lawsuit in the past for violating US and international law by contributing to crimes of the Israeli government.

Israel’s approval of some 6,000 new settler homes on illegal Israeli settlements across Palestinian territory following Trump’s inauguration also included 20 apartments in Beit El directly funded by Friedman's organization, part of which is being constructed on private Palestinian land, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The organization has funded several other illegal construction projects in Beit El, including one in which the Israeli Supreme Court ordered its partial evacuation in 2012 for also being built on private Palestinian land, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The founder of Beit El also reportedly said that Trump himself had donated $10,000 to the settlement in 2003 in “honor of his friend Friedman.” In addition, Jared Kushner’s family have also reportedly donated tens of thousands of dollars to illegal Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has risen to be Trump’s top adviser in his administration.

Meanwhile, Trump met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington D.C. earlier this month, where Trump told Abbas: “I want to support you in being the Palestinian leader who signs his name to the final and most important peace agreement that brings safety, stability prosperity to both peoples and to the region.”

Trump, referring to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told Abbas that “we will get this done.” However, the US President has not revealed a thorough understanding of the conflict in the region or of his country's diplomatic efforts on the issue.

Trump will also be visiting both Abbas and Netanyahu later in the month during his trip to the occupied West Bank and Israel.

The right-wing president has remained largely elusive regarding his policies on Israel-Palestine, as he has expressed his support for Israel’s illegal settlement building on Palestinian territory in the past, while also making statements critical of settlements following his inauguration.

Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to bring about a peace deal between Israel and the PA, while documents released by Foreign Policy magazine late last month showed that Trump’s 2018 budget would see a 4.5 percent increase in US foreign aid to the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
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