Amb. David Friedman’s Unforgiveable Misstep

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 Goldberg
David Goldberg

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.

The Many Facets of the Israel-UAE Deal

Aug. 20, 2020 – By DAVID ROYTENBERG

On Aug. 13, Israel and United Arab Emirates announced the signing of an agreement normalizing relations between the two countries. According to the text of the agreement, “Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.”

In return for the UAE’s pledge to normalize relations, the Israeli government agreed to “suspend” its plan, enshrined in the coalition agreement that established the current government, to proceed with unilateral annexation of territories allocated to Israel in Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan, unveiled earlier this year.

With annexation already delayed because of opposition by the Americans and the Blue and White faction in the governing coalition, this facet of the deal appeared to turn a political liability into an advantage for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The reaction to the announcement is revealing, as it separates those who would welcome peace in spite of possible compromise, and from those who would rather pursue their maximal aims at the cost of continuing the conflict. The cries of betrayal from expansionists on the Israeli right were loud and indignant.

Samaria Regional Council leader Yossi Dagan accused Netanyahu of stabbing the settler movement in the back and threatened political consequences. He said that they had stood by Netanyahu until now, but that abandoning annexation was “a step too far.”

Spokespeople for the Palestinian Authority unanimously denounced the UAE pact. Although PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said earlier this year that the threat of annexation represented the death of the two-state solution, nobody in Ramallah seemed pleased that Israel had backed away from the annexation plan.

Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat told Agence France-Presse that the UAE deal with Israel represents the death of the two-state solution. In spite of the concession obtained by the UAE on annexation, he claimed that normalization with Israel would encourage Israeli intransigence.

Leadership in Iran and Turkey had no good words to say, with Iran threatening the UAE would “burn in Zionist fire.”

Support for the agreement came from both main factions within the Israeli government, although Blue and White was apparently kept in the dark until just before the deal was announced.

Supporters of Israel in the United States were broadly in support of the agreement. The Canadian Friends of Peace Now praised the move in a statement, emphasizing that stepping back from annexation was welcome.

Support also came from U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who indicated that working for better relations between Israel and the Gulf States had been a goal of the previous American administration in which he served as vice-president. He welcomed Israel’s decision to suspend its plan for annexation.

Commentators from across the Israeli political spectrum hailed the agreement as historic. The UAE is the first Gulf Arab State to officially end its hostility to Israel. While advocates of annexation were disappointed, the vast majority of Israelis appeared to prefer the UAE deal to the prospect of extending Israeli sovereignty over more territory.

Given the broadly welcoming mood in Israel, it is especially disheartening to see the unanimous rejection of the deal among the Palestinian leadership. One would hope that at least some among them would see the suspension of plans for annexation as a new window of opportunity to negotiate a peace agreement that would offer them more territory than that proposed in the Trump plan.

In the face of many potential risks to Israel had annexation proceeded, it may well be that Netanyahu’s enthusiasm for it was never as firm as his rhetoric suggested. With the UAE deal now achieved, it would be beneficial for both parties if it leads to a renewal of efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace.


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa. He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.