President Trump has nominated David Friedman to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Friedman has a long track record of opposing the two state solution, supporting settlements deep in the West Bank, and writing in offensive terms about Jews who disagree with him. His views stand far outside of the mainstream. Friedman’s confirmation hearing will take place on Thursday morning in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Below are seven questions that Senators should ask him to answer during the hearing.
1 Two-State Solution: For a generation U.S. policy has been to support an agreed upon two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can each have their own state and live together side-by-side in peace and security. Indeed, the Trump administration appeared to endorse this position with a statement in early February stating that “the American desire for peace between Israelis and Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years.” And President Trump himself has talked about his desire to successfully negotiate this deal. Moreover, Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly argued for the two-state solution in his Bar Ilan speech and since. But you have written that “There has never been a two-state solution, only a two state narrative.” And have called it “an illusory solution in search of a non-existent problem.” So, as the American Ambassador to Israel, will you be willing to implement a policy that continues to support the two-state solution? If you oppose a two-state solution, what is the credible alternative? Do you believe Israel should annex large parts of the West Bank instead, and how will that be consistent with Israel’s desire to remain both a democratic State and a Jewish State?
2 Engaging Across the Political Spectrum with the American Jewish Community: You have a track record of strong identification with the Israeli and American right and have used sharp controversial terms about the Jewish left, writing: “Are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos? The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.” Do you stand by this provocative and insulting statement against Jews who have a view different than your own? Will you apologize? Will you be open to meeting with American Jews from across the political spectrum when they visit Israel? Or will you apply an ideological test?
3 Settlements: The president has stated that he wishes to try and make the ultimate deal between Israelis and Palestinians, and has called the construction of new settlements and the expansion of existing settlements not helpful in achieving peace. But you have been a strong supporter of the settlements and served as President of the American Friends of Beit El Institutions – a charity that gives money to settlements in the West Bank and especially to the settlement of Beit El. But Beit El is in the middle of the West Bank and many of the settlers who live there are are among the most hardline opponents of any two-state agreement. Do you view new settlements and expansion of existing ones as unhelpful to achieving peace? How will your support for settlements be consistent with the view expressed by President Trump criticizing settlements?
4 Jerusalem Embassy: You are on record as supporting moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, and when you were nominated declared your intention to work and reside in Jerusalem. Are you concerned about the security implications of such a move? Israeli security officials have reportedly briefed PM Netanyahu about the danger of Palestinian violence in response, because of how emotional this issue is. And even more concerning is the safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel at embassies across the Middle East, which could be targeted in retaliation. Is it worth the political statement of moving the embassy to Jerusalem if it risks the lives of American diplomats? Shouldn’t we first have a clear plan for how to deal with any negative repercussions or dangers before we would consider a move? Given that President Trump has not indicated that the embassy will move and the administration is reviewing the issue, are you willing to work and live in the current established embassy and ambassador’s residence? There have also been reports that you will live and work in Jerusalem while the embassy remains in Tel Aviv. Is that logistically possible if all your staff is in Tel Aviv?
5 Aid to the Palestinians: You have consistently described financial aid to the Palestinians as “hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes paid by the U.S. State Department to Abbas.” However, the Israeli government often supports American assistance. First, there are funds for the Palestinian Security Forces, which Israeli security officials acknowledge have been critical to countering terrorism and keeping Israel safe. Then there is financial and humanitarian aid to Palestinians to build schools, support hospitals, and pay back money to the Israeli electric company for providing power to the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, no American assistance goes directly to the Palestinian Authority anymore. Would you recommend cutting off this support as you have in the past? What do you say to Israeli security officials who are concerned this could be highly destabilizing and put Israel at risk?
6 Iran and Syria Policy: You have expressed the view that the JCPOA is a “reckless act of appeasement” that will result in a nuclear Iran. At the same time, you have written admiringly about Vladimir Putin and Russia’s role in Syria and approvingly about Russia’s efforts to keep Iranian proxy Bashar al-Assad in power, all of which empowers Iran in the region. Both the Trump administration and the vast majority of Israeli security experts and government officials appear to be moving toward a policy that calls for leaving the JCPOA in place rather than abrogating the deal. What is your current view of the Iran deal? Do you believe that the U.S. should tear it up? How do you square your views on Iran’s corrosive role in the region with your views of Russia’s positive role despite its partnership with Iran? Do you believe that the fight against ISIS is more important than battling Iranian regional power?
7 Role of the ambassador: You have written disparagingly of the State Department, accusing it of over half a century of anti-Semitism and advocating for career foreign service officers to be summarily fired for holding different views than President Trump. You have an extensive record of writings and statements that express deeply held convictions and views on granular details of American policy toward Israel that may contradict policies adopted by the Trump administration. Some of your public statements also indicate a preference for setting policy as ambassador rather than communicating policy as ambassador. In your view, what is the role of an ambassador? Do you believe that you can adequately advocate for and communicate American policies to the government of Israel that you have previously dismissed as unwise or unworkable? How do you intend to work and collaborate with an institution and colleagues that you have rhetorically dismissed?