Donald Trump has made so many awful picks for his Cabinet and key diplomatic positions that it’s difficult to choose the worst one. But with the announcement that his bankruptcy attorney David Friedman will be the next US ambassador to Israel, we have a real contender.
Friedman’s selection is bad for America, bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, and bad for American Jews. His far-right positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict could create huge new problems for the United States in the Middle East, while driving a wedge between Jewish Americans and the Jewish state.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the selection is that Trump found someone utterly unqualified for the job, who is out of step with US policy, and is more extreme in his views than the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s quite the incompetence trifecta.
Friedman rejects the two-state solution, which for more than a decade has been the cornerstone of US policy in the region. He is also a strong supporter of Israeli settlements — a position that runs counter to four decades of US policy, which views the settlements as obstacles to peace.
Friedman has even called on Israel to annex territory in the West Bank — a position that even Netanyahu has not embraced. Upon being nominated, he said he looked forward to working at “the US Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” which could signal Trump’s intention to move the embassy to that city. Doing so would inflame the Palestinians, as well as key US allies in the region, and would serve no useful diplomatic purpose for America.
For Palestinians, the Friedman pick practically ensures that the United States will do nothing to block Israeli efforts to expand West Bank settlements, thus making a Palestinian state increasingly unachievable.
As for Israel, Friedman and the Trump Administration appear disinclined to do anything diplomatically to prevent Israel from increasingly becoming an apartheid state - one that provides no political rights to the Palestinian people living under occupation. If anything, they seem poised to hasten this disastrous future for Israel. And, with no diplomatic outlet for resolving the conflict, violence is also likely. Or Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas could embrace the nuclear option and end security cooperation with Israel or even disband the Palestinian Authority. This would force Israel to more or less re-occupy the West Bank and fully pay for the costs of occupation — a step few in Israel, including Netanyahu, want to see.
Ironically for Netanyahu, this creates a deeper set of problems. Emboldened by the Friedman pick, his right-wing coalition partners will probably push him to consider the annexation of territory or an expansion of settlements into places that would previously have been denounced by a different US president. Netanyahu may now be under even greater pressure from the right to take steps that could incite violence and destabilize the region.
Above all, however, Friedman’s selection is a disaster for relations between Israel and American Jewry. The more Netanyahu embraces measures supported by the right wing, the more he alienates Jewish Americans, many of whom (particularly young and secular Jews) don’t share the current Israeli government’s views on settlements, a Palestinian state, the Iran nuclear deal or Israel’s religious delineations.
Friedman has already called supporters of the Israel lobbying group J Street “kapos” because of their support for a two-state solution. Kapos is a repulsive reference to those Jews conscripted by the Nazis to assist in the extermination of European Jewry. He has also said of J Street and its supporters, “They’re not Jewish, and they’re not pro-Israel,” which means that, if confirmed, the US ambassador to Israel would be on record believing that the majority of American Jews who support a Palestinian state are not actually Jews.
There is little chance of Trump’s presidency being anything but a disaster for those who aspire to see Arabs and Israelis live in peace. The Republican Party’s unqualified support for Israel and Netanyahu practically guaranteed that. With Friedman as US ambassador, Trump has done what might have once seemed unimaginable — he’s actually made the situation worse.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.