Trump nominee for Israel envoy echoes uncertainty on two-state solution

The Wall, photographed here in the Bethlehem Aida refugee camp, is largely built on Palestinian territory far inside the Green Line (67 border) and cuts off many villages and olive orchards as it snakes through the landscape and turns both Gaza and the West Bank into walled prisons. (Photo Credit: Rianne Van Doevern, 2008. The Advocacy Project via Flickr Creative Commons)

A bankruptcy lawyer and long-time associate of President Trump with no diplomatic experience appeared in Senate confirmation hearings Thursday. He’s nominated for the post of Ambassador to Israel. During the hearing he pledged to tone down his propensity for inflammatory rhetoric. The hearing came one day after President Trump indicated that he is not necessarily committed to a two-state solution in the Middle East. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday. Known for his hard line right-wing views, Friedman is a long time financial supporter of Israeli settlement activity, a vocal opponent of the Iran Nuclear Deal, and a skeptic of the viability of a two-state solution.

Almost as soon as Friedman began his opening remarks, protesters interrupted the proceedings. They continued to do so periodically throughout his testimony.

Repeatedly questioned about his stated position on the U.S. longstanding support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – the nominee said that his personal feelings would not affect his ability to represent the formal position of the United States.

“I have expressed my skepticism about the two-state solution solely on the basis of what I have perceived as unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state,” Friedman said. “I think that is a foundational problem.”

Yet his testimony directly contradicts his record, in which he has called the widely accepted framework for peace “an illusory solution in search of a non-existent problem.”

A shifting level of U.S. commitment to a two-state solution was also evident during a joint press conference at the White House Wednesday. Following a state visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president took questions from the media – during which Trump waffled on the concept.

“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said, “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one.”

The president did say that Israel should “hold back” on settlement activity.

One of the major impediments to defining two separate states is drawing, and respecting, a border between the two. As Israeli settlements continue to expand within territory internationally-recognized as Palestinian, they physically block the possibility of creating a geographically contiguous West Bank.

Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. According to the United Nations, the pace of settlement approval and construction in the contested area is growing – with more than four thousand residential units advanced during a three-week period in 2017. That’s about 25 percent higher than the same period last year.

Trump’s statements sparked a quick response.

While in Cairo on a six-country diplomatic trip through the region, UN Secretary General António Guterres said there is no other viable option: “There is no Plan B to the situation between Palestinians and Israelis but a two-state solution and everything must be done to preserve that possibility.”

During his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey asked the nominees for the Israeli Ambassadorship what he sees as an alternative solution to the conflict.

“Sitting here today, I don’t have a better option,” Friedman told Markey.

Five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, sent a letter to the Senate urging lawmakers to find Friedman unqualified for the post.

The position is the first country-level ambassadorship the incoming administration has tried to fill since taking office.

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