Don't Count on US.
I was asked the other day if during my time as ambassador to Israel, I had ever lashed out at an Israeli media commentator, as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman did against Haaretz commentator Gideon Levy who published a piece criticizing Friedman. My answer was “no.” I added that I would not have jumped into the weeds of internal Israeli political skirmishes as Friedman has done, repeatedly, since taking up his position in Israel. One might say it is unprofessional. But keep in mind that Friedman is not a professional. He is a political appointee of President Trump, who presumably wanted to reassure his political base of his support for Prime Minister Netanyahu and for the right wing settler movement in Israel. I doubt that there are many Trump voters in J Street, while there certainly are in ZOA.
The President has the legal and practical right to pick Ambassadors, subject to Senate confirmation, to represent him. However, the Ambassador represents the United States, all of it, and swears allegiance to the Constitution in his./her oath of office. “I, xxx, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;….” That oath does not mention the President. In practice, however, the Ambassador serves the President at his/her pleasure.
President Trump’s choice of Friedman, with his known ties to the settler movement, like Trump’s public announcement on Jerusalem, belies the President’s claim that he wants to lead an effort for the “ultimate deal.” One could speculate that Trump decided early on that a deal is not in the cards and so he is free to play politics with the Middle East and Israel. Trump does not seem to care about Israel’s long term survival, which bears on the settlement issue and democracy. And he seems to be oblivious to the various Israeli Generals who are critical of Israeli policy for security reasons. Perhaps the President does believe that it is none of our business. As they say, he has no skin in that game. But if that is the case, then it should be taken as a message to all - don’t count on him if things get messy.
The President has made it clear that it is up to the parties, or more accurately, the Israelis to make decisions about the West Bank and settlements - not Trump or the United States. Perversely, that did not, stop him from saying that “he” had taken Jerusalem off the table of negotiations. I have a hard time reconciling these positions, or I would have, if I thought that Trump’s positions were any more set in stone than a weathervane would be if placed on top of Trump Towers. So that is Trumps position today and is likely to remain his position until, of course, it becomes more profitable politically to change his position.