Trump’s Pick for Ambassador to Israel Could Kill the Two-State Solution

by Eli Clifton

This article was first published by the The Nation and was reprinted here with permission. Copyright The Nation. 

Early in his unconventional candidacy, Donald Trump embraced the possibility that he would kick the failed cycle of repeated US-brokered peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to the curb. In February, he made waves when he told an MSNBC town hall in Charleston, South Carolina, that he wanted to be a “neutral guy” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not pick sides.

Trump remained mostly silent about his plans for managing the conflict and the US relationship with Israel, Washington’s largest recipient of military aid, but his slow buildup of hawkishly pro-Israel and anti-Muslim advisers and likely political appointees—including Michael Flynn and John Bolton—hinted that the president-elect wasn’t seeking to stake out a “neutral” position. That came to a head yesterday, with the transition team’s announcement that it would appoint David Friedman, a bankruptcy attorney and Trump adviser, as US ambassador to Israel.

Friedman “has been a long-time friend and trusted advisor to me. His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East,” Trump said in a statement issued by his team.

Friedman immediately announced his intention to seek the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a dramatic reversal of American policy for decades and a move guaranteed to antagonize Palestinians and the Arab world. And his background as a supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank sends a strong message that the Trump presidency has little intention of seriously supporting the creation of a Palestinian state.

Trump’s pick to represent Washington in Israel is president of American Friends of Beit El, a group that collects tax-deductible contributions to support that West Bank settlement. Friedman was seen arguing for the Israeli annexation of the West Bank in a video published by Israel’s Channel 2 in September.

And, in June, Friedman told Haaretz that Trump might abandon the longstanding US support for a two-state solution in favor of a binational state where, in most interpretations of the concept, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Israel are treated as second-class citizens in what would effectively be an apartheid state.

Friedman’s views mark a significant departure from decades of US support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it also puts Trump’s ambassador-designate on a collision course with many Jewish Americans.

Friedman has been openly hostile to Jewish liberals, a particularly confrontational position to stake out when 71 percent of Jewish voters cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.

J Street, a left-leaning group of “pro-Israel, pro-Peace Americans,” blasted Friedman with a statement this morning. J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said:

David Friedman, the President of the pro-settlement organization American Friends of Beit El, has argued that Trump should back Israel’s annexation of large parts of the West Bank. He’s accused President Obama of being an anti-Semite.

And, he’s called J Street “worse than kapos.” If you’re not familiar with that term, Google it. It’s the kind of horrifically offensive rhetoric we’d expect from anonymous trolls online—not from the next Ambassador of the US to Israel.

This is a dark time, not only for J Street but for all Jews and Americans who care about Israel’s future as a democratic, Jewish homeland.

(Kapos were the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps assigned to supervise forced labor or other administrative tasks for SS guards. Friedman called J Street “worse than kapos” in an Arutz Sheva column published in June.)

Friedman may also find himself in conflict with generals and diplomats who have spoken out with increasing frequency about the costs to US security incurred by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perception that the United States is biased in Israel’s favor.

Ret. Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, shares this view, which might put him on a collision course with Friedman. In 2013, Mattis told the Aspen Security Forum, “I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

Mattis warned that the status quo in Israel was untenable, saying, “Either [Israel] ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote—apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”

If Friedman gets his way, Mattis might be dealing with the military and security consequences of a US administration that green-lights the annexation of parts of the West Bank and a flood of settlement construction, which could kill once and for all a two-state solution to the conflict.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. The two state solution is dead a long time ago. Maybe a new more successful approach will come out such one country with an autonomous region for the Palestinians.

  2. “…Kill the two-state solution”??? In what alternate universe does a ‘two-state solution’ exist??? The title alone warns the reader not to waste their time.

  3. O, dear, will this ignite a third Intefadeh? Hamas kitchens in Gaza will be whipping up new batches of their trademark firecrackers-on-steroids, and in the West Bank they’ll be stepping up the production of and exercises with sling-shots, thereby starting an arms race with Israel. Bibi and “the most moral army in the world” will have no choice but to exercise their right of self-defense against these heavily armed Arabs, who actually have no rights at all, not even the right to expect a redress of their decades-long grievance against an illegal military occupation shot through with hundreds of war crimes. So, out will roll the Israeli tanks and the humvees and the guns and the ammunition and assorted other war toys, most of it bearing the “Made in the USA” label.

    Despite their differences, what the Israelis and Palestinians do have in common is the knowledge that 1) Washington’s support for the two-state solution has always been nothing much more than elaborate lip-service; 2) the two-state solution is dead and buried — or, at best, a zombie with a taste for Palestinian brain; and 3) the only thing that gets the Palestinian cause on the front pages of Western newspapers (and thus into Western consciousness) is military violence, but it also gets the (illegitimate) Israeli cause out there too — and it’s always a toss-up as to which cause will poll better. It’s a great enhancement of the Israeli policy of “No solution is the best solution” (Moshe Dyan).

  4. The only solution that includes democracy is one state, without ethnicity as a requirement.

    As the other commenters have noted, there has been no viable two-state solution for years, and the US has never had a desire to push Likud toward such a result.

  5. Do we assume David Friedman will encourage Israel to create Bantustans in the occupied West Bank?

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