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An ill-deserved assault on Ambassador David Friedman

He said nothing controversial whatsoever about the West Bank, except in the eyes of those who consider any Israeli territorial or other claims illegitimate.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks to members of the press during an event in Jerusalem on Oct. 14, 2018. Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks to members of the press during an event in Jerusalem on Oct. 14, 2018. Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian and leftist Jewish leaders called for America’s Israel ambassador to be fired for telling The New York Times in a recent interview that the Jewish state has, “under certain circumstances, the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Yes, for daring to suggest that Israel has the right even to “some” of its land, David Friedman was called a “settler” by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who had previously dubbed him a “son of a dog.”

And the P.A. Foreign Ministry announced that it would weigh filing a complaint against Friedman at the International Criminal Court for “trying to impose his racist visions and threatening peace and security in the region, as well as exposing the Palestinian people to several dangers and conspiracies.”

J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami was equally incensed, accusing Friedman of “once again [making] clear that he is acting not as the U.S. ambassador to Israel but as the settlement movement’s ambassador to the United States. By essentially giving the Netanyahu government a green light to begin unilaterally annexing Palestinian territory in the West Bank, the Trump administration is endorsing a flagrant violation of international law.”

Peace Now chimed in, referring to Friedman as a “Trojan horse sent by the settler right, which sabotages Israel’s interests and the chance for peace,” and urging U.S. President Donald Trump to “send him packing.”

The outcry over Friedman’s perfectly reasonable remark is worthy of note, particularly in view of what the U.S. envoy said next.

When asked how Washington would react if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed through on his campaign vow ahead of the April 9 Knesset elections to annex part of Judea and Samaria, Friedman replied: “We really don’t have a view until we know how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves. These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”

In other words, he said nothing controversial whatsoever. Except in the eyes of those who consider any Israeli territorial or other claims illegitimate, that is. You know, the same people who view both Netanyahu and Trump as figures who must be toppled at all costs—if not at the ballot box, then through their respective criminal-justice systems.

It is peculiar, then, for such people to demand that Friedman—a representative of the Trump administration—be relieved of his post. After all, his predecessor, Dan Shapiro—a true blue Barack Obama loyalist—was not sacked for faithfully conveying his boss’s Mideast messages. And those, unlike Friedman’s, were frequently reprehensible.

And while on the subject of the former U.S. president, whose treatment of Israel was as unconscionable as his attitude towards American exceptionalism: Friedman attacked the Obama administration for its last anti-Israel hurrah in December 2016, when it abstained from voting on, and thus enabling the passage of, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, granting the Palestinians a “day of victory.”

Friedman also pulled no punches when criticizing the P.A. for its “very, very poor track record on human rights” and “massive pressure” on Palestinian businesspeople not to attend the U.S.-led economic conference in Bahrain at the end of June. Though Abbas and his henchmen have denied exerting such pressure, they said on Sunday that they are planning to hold a “popular uprising” around the world during the two days of the Bahrain conference “to confront American-Israeli schemes aimed at eliminating the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Of course, the Bahrain conference—the first phase of Trump’s yet-to-be-unveiled “deal of the century”—is nothing of the sort. As Friedman told the Times, “It’s unfair the way the Palestinians have described this as a bribe or as an attempt to buy off their national aspirations. It’s not at all. It’s an attempt to give life to their aspirations by creating a viable economy.”

Further proof, if any were needed, that the Palestinian war against Israel is not about “aspirations.”

Nor is it about real estate, as even Trump himself is coming to realize. Friedman undoubtedly has known this since well before he was appointed ambassador. Only someone who willfully ignores the content of Palestinian speeches, sermons, schoolbooks and media outlets could harbor fantasies to the contrary.

Friedman should not be fired for the way in which he serves his administration. He should be given a medal for constantly taking ill-deserved flak without flinching.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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