Oct. 7, 2020
By DAVID H. GOLDBERG
U.S. President Donald Trump takes great pride in being a rule breaker, and in the fact that his administration has taken an approach to policymaking that has been, to put it mildly, contrary to traditional methods.
This non-traditional approach is certainly reflected in the Trump Administration’s approach toward Israel and the Middle East, and the list is substantial: Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; that the presence of Israeli civilians living on the West Bank does not violate international law; the promotion of a peace plan that favours Israel over the Palestinians, in part by seemingly supporting the application of Israeli sovereignty over a significant area of the West Bank; midwifing the historic Abraham Accords involving formal recognition agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, and doing so without the involvement of the Palestinians – thereby belying the longstanding belief that regional peace is dependent on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Value judgments aside, one must acknowledge that the above achieved the desired goal of demonstrating Trump’s determination to do diplomacy his way, by speaking painful truths and shake players from their complacency.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman has played a key role in formulating and facilitating the implementation of the “Trump Doctrine” vis-à-vis the Middle East. An Orthodox Jew and a bankruptcy lawyer by profession, Friedman is a longtime personal friend and political supporter of the president. He has proven to be an effective advocate of Trump’s strategy of shaking up Middle East diplomacy. Consistent with Trump’s policy, he has been a strong critic of the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to return to the negotiating table. He also has been a vocal supporter of the interests of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, for which he has reportedly occasionally been rebuked by the U.S. State Department.
However contentious his behaviour might be considered, Friedman was performing his professional duties. However, by recently adopting an overtly partisan position on the U.S. electoral process, he exceeded his professional boundaries and must resign.
In an interview on Oct. 6 with the UAE-based media outlet Al Ain News, Friedman cautioned that a victory in next month’s presidential election by Joe Biden would have an adverse effect on the region, especially with regard to efforts to curb the threat of Iran.
Linking then-Vice President Biden to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal pushed by the Obama Administration, “something that President Trump – and I share his view – thinks was the worst international deal the U.S. has ever entered into,” Friedman implied that a Biden victory would precipitate a U.S. re-entry into the Iran deal and to a weakening of sanctions against Iran’s efforts to expedite the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
“We worked really hard to get Iran, I think, to a much better place. I would hate to think a new administration would undermine that but, regrettably, if Biden wins, I think they might,” Friedman added. “If Biden wins, we will see a policy shift that, in my personal opinion, will be wrong and will be bad for the region, including for Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait,” he continued.
As an American citizen, Friedman has every right to express his personal opinion about policy issues driving the current U.S. electoral cycle. But he must do so only as a private citizen, not as a senior government official, and most certainly not as one of the most visible U.S. ambassadors.
The Trump Administration may pride itself on having broken many rules, but this one it cannot. Ambassador Friedman must go.
David H. Goldberg PhD, the author of eight books on Israel, formerly served as director of research and education for the Canada-Israel Committee and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.