by Eli Clifton
President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to pick David Friedman, the president of American Friends of Beit El, a charity which raises tax-deductible contributions to fund the Beit El settlement in the West Bank, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel is a clear sign that the Trump administration has little regard for Washington’s longstanding U.S. opposition to settlement construction. But if there’s still any question about whether Friedman will find an ally in his opposition to a two-state solution, which he claims was only an “illusion” serving “both the U.S. and the Arabs,” one has to look no further than John Bolton, who is reportedly a top candidate–albeit a controversial one–for the highly influential post of Deputy Secretary of State.
On December 4, the former U.N. Ambassador spoke at a fundraising dinner for American Friends of Beit El in New York City. Bolton praised Donald Trump, suggested that the new president would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and would put an end to Washington’s opposition to Israeli settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
A video reviewed by LobeLog showed Bolton telling the audience:
I am confident that for the first time where other politicians have talked about where the location of the U.S. Embassy to Israel should be located — just as [Trump] didn’t allow Beijing to dictate who he talks to on Taiwan, [Trump is] not going to allow other countries to dictate to us where we put the American Embassy. I think he will recognize that construction of communities in Judea and Samaria are not obstacles to the peace process.
Bolton’s assertions about Trump’s Middle East policies were greeted with applause at the dinner. But, if Trump turns a blind eye to settlement construction and moves the embassy to Jerusalem, it will mark a significant shift in State Department policy.
Daniel C. Kurtzer, George W. Bush’s ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, warned about Friedman’s appointment and the consequences of moving the embassy to Jerusalem in a New York Times op-ed last Friday, writing (my emphasis):
Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem — not a pressing issue for most Israelis — will inspire riots across the Islamic world. The United States will rightly be accused of violating the very advice we have given to others to avoid taking unilateral actions on inflammatory issues.
Supporting Israeli settlement expansion will bring a quick death to the dream of a two-state solution, the only solution to this conflict to which a majority of Israelis and Palestinians both have subscribed. The demise of the two-state solution will please right-wing Israelis and their right-wing American supporters such as Mr. Friedman. But would that be in the interests of the United States and the Trump administration?
And Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote on Monday:
If the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem, the Arab world would take it as a slap in the face. The Islamic State will use it as a recruiting tool. Violence is almost certain to erupt — possibly another intifada. People will die — Israelis and Arabs, certainly, and probably Americans too.
Early in his candidacy, Trump promised to act as a “neutral guy” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his choice of political appointments suggests there will be little interest either in acting as an honest broker or in pressing Israel to halt its de facto annexation of the West Bank by expanding existing settlements, building new ones, or recognizing others that the Israeli courts have deemed illegal.
For his part, Friedman, who is sitting directly behind Bolton in the YouTube video, proposed the formal annexation of the West Bank by Israel in a video broadcast by Israel’s Channel 2 in September. Meanwhile, Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, proposed ending U.S. support for a two-state solution.
Bolton has also expressed opposition to U.S. efforts to broker a two-state solution.
“[Palestinian institutions don’t] have any discernible capacity for sustained adherence to difficult commitments and compromises, which Israel rightly insists upon,” he wrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in April, 2014, and he has proposed a “three-state solution” that would hand-off Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza to Egypt and Jordan, whether they want it or not.
Indeed, little progress has been made over the past eight years in advancing the peace process and many analysts believe the possibility of a two-state solution is diminishing rapidly as the government of Binyamin Netanyahu has increased settlement construction significantly. But the explicit rejection by several of Trump’s closest advisers of decades-old U.S. policy fails to address the very real problem of the fate of the 4.5 million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
It may also incur the opposition of senior diplomats and military officers.
“I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis (ret.), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense complained shortly after his retirement in 2013. Mattis, who is certain to be an influential voice in the incoming administration, went on to warn that Israel was on the path to “apartheid” and “that didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”
How Trump ultimately comes down on the issue remains to be seen.