Amb. Friedman on 242 - oops

President Trump’s Ambassador to Israel,  David Friedman. has stood US Middle East policy on its head with his recent comments September 28, by reinventing the intentions of the drafters of UNSC Resolution 242, and ignoring US policy toward a “two state solution.”   While it is true that the US drafters of UNSC resolution 242 had intended to keep open the possibility of border rectifications, particularly in the Latrun salient, I defy Mr Friedman to show me the evidence that the originators of the resolution saw that “wiggle room" as evidence that 242 authorized 800,000 Israeli settlers to take up residence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. According to Wikipedia, as of December 2015, over 800,000 Israeli Jews resided over the 1949 Armistice Lines (including east-Jerusalem neighborhoods), constituting approximately 13% of Israel's Jewish population. Isn't it strange that Trump’s Ambassador is more aggressive on thesettlements issue than Israel's Prime Minister, Netanyahu?

Five former US Ambassadors to Israel, in a letter to the Senate, opposed Friedman’s nomination for good reason. In that letter we noted that Friedman has argued that “two states for two peoples is an illusory solution in search of a non-existent problem.”  The letter added: “Mr. Friedman has been active in supporting and financing the settler movement. He has said that he does not believe it would be illegal for Israel to annex the occupied West Bank.”  The Letter concluded: “We urge the Committee to address the question of whether Mr. Friedman, as ambassador, would defend the established American view that annexation of West Bank territory, outside the context of an international resolution, would be counterproductive and a violation of international law.”  

Friedman has not been prepared to support existing US policy in public, or, apparently, in private, to the point that the State Department’s spokesperson, the same afternoon of his statement, had to clarify that his assertions should “not be read as a shift in US policy.”

But does it really matter? 

I served as Ambassador in four posts and I can assure you that as Ambassadors we can advise, and even lobby for preferred policies.  But, we do not make policy unless it is consistent with the that of the President and Secretary of State. Free-wheeling is the fastest way I know to be ignored or denied in Washington as well as by the host government. Through his actions, Friedman has undermined his authority and called into question for whom he speaks, other than himself. That is not good for him and not good fir the US. And it dies not make any difference whether an Ambassador is a career appointment or political appointee. 

I recall one story during the separation agreement negotiations in the Sinai in which it was rumored that Secretary of State Kissinger told our ambassador to Israel, Kenneth Keating to stay away from then Prime Minister Golda Meir.  “She’s my girl,” he is rumored ti have said. “So stay away.”  Perhaps the wordshould be passed to Friedman that PM Netanyahu is "Trump's guy" and to "stay away."

Friedman will not listen to me or to the advice of four other previous Ambassadors to Israel.  But it doesn’t not really matter for two reasons - 1. Trump is not serious about engaging the Palestinian problem and 2. no one will be listening to Friedman, starting with the Palestinians, even if Trump does go for the “extraordinary” and “excellent", “amazing” “grand” deal.”                                                         

Ned Walker