Trump’s reckless choice of ambassador is a gift to Israel’s radical right
Trump’s choice of ambassador is a drastic intrusion into Israeli politics on the side of a radical, anti-democratic fringe. The pick signals that Washington is abandoning the goal of a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on two states. It signals American assent, even support, for permanent denial of basic rights to Palestinians. In parallel, it undermines moderate Palestinians and empowers extremists.
Friedman’s tightest personal connection in Israel, by all accounts this week, is Ya’akov Katz, a founder of the settlement of Beit El near Ramallah and of the yeshiva (Talmudic seminary) there. Friedman is president of the U.S. fundraising arm of the Beit El yeshiva. In a radio interview Sunday, Katz said that he and Friedman were “like brothers … it’s a friendship that goes back decades.” Under the yeshiva’s auspices, Katz helped create Arutz 7, originally a pirate radio station, now a digital news platform feeding the echo chamber of hard-line settlers. A couple of terms back, Katz served in the Knesset as head of the National Union, a collection of ultra-nationalist splinter groups. In elections since then, afraid of not getting enough votes to make it into parliament on its own, the party has run as part of Jewish Home — and has put pressure on Bennett at signs of what it regards as ideological compromise.
Some of Friedman’s own most outrageous statements have been made in articles he wrote for Arutz 7 — his description of supporters of the dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street as “worse than kapos,” his accusation that President Obama emanates “blatant anti-Semitism,” his portrayal of Israel’s Arab citizens as disloyal freeloaders on its health system and universities. But he talks to the mainstream press as well. It was in an interview to Haaretz that Friedman said that “nobody really knows how many Palestinians live there,” meaning the West Bank. That’s not a throw-away line; it’s a pledge of allegiance to the demography-denial school of the Israeli right, which reduces Palestinian population figures to “prove” that annexation of the West Bank won’t create a binational state.Capital Offense
Among experts, the most optimistic estimation is that the diplomatic and security impact on Israel and the United States [of moving the embassy to Jerusalem] will be merely awful, not apocalyptic. I do not take comfort even from such “upbeat” assessments, perhaps because I live a few hundred meters from the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem—which, with the switch of a sign, will become the embassy, and quite possibly the focus for violent protests....
Now, to acknowledge the obvious: Jerusalem is, in fact, Israel's capital. It's where the parliament, the prime minister's residence and the supreme court are located. Israel doesn't put its embassy to the United States in, say, Philadelphia. Why shouldn't America recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital?
The answer to this is another question: Precisely which Jerusalem does the Trump regime intend to recognize as Israel's capital?...
....Several years ago, the United States built a large new consulate in Jerusalem. City planning officials have said that it's intended to be the embassy, if and when America makes the move. A change of sign is all that's needed. In 2014, the U.S. also bought the neighboring plot, the site of the Diplomat Hotel, now a senior citizens' home.
As I mentioned, the new consulate is near my home. I live inside the Green Line. The consulate grounds, on the other hand, straddle the line. Part is in the pre-1967 no-man's land. The Diplomat plot is mostly or entirely in no-man's land.
If the consulate was planned to serve as an embassy—perhaps to Palestine as well as Israel—after peace, the location would be nicely symbolic. If turned into an embassy today, it will be a declaration in concrete that the United States accepts de jure Israeli rule beyond the Green Line. In turn, that's recognition of Israel sovereignty over the Islamic and Christian holy sites....
If the embassy is moved, “The Palestinian Authority is certain to boycott the U.S. administration,” says Professor Samir Awad, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank and an expert on relations with America. “It will jeopardize relations with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world, and ... in Latin America.” Awad cautiously estimates that a new Palestinian uprising is unlikely, but “violence will escalate. Whatever exists now will double.”
Nor will the United States be immune, in Kurtzer's assessment. “The Muslim community in Islamabad might just take aim at the American Embassy, or in Jakarta or somewhere else. ... The best case scenario is that the world doesn't fall apart, it just gets ruined in significant ways.”
If Trump asks for briefing papers, if he meets with policy professionals, if he even talks to the men he has chosen to be the secretaries of defense and state, he'll hear that moving the embassy will cause a blow-up. We live wildly unpredictable times, so it's even possible that Trump will take advice. It seems, though, that he likes defying advice and making things blow up. But for the sake of all that's holy, Mr. Trump, things blow up in Jerusalem too often. Please go cause trouble somewhere else.