In an interview that took place prior to US President Donald Trump’s recent comment that Israel will have to pay a “higher price” in future negotiations with the Palestinians because it won a “very big thing” with the embassy move, Friedman said: “There’s nothing we have in our back pocket that says, ‘Well, Israel, you’ve got to give up X, Y and Z because the embassy was moved.’
“The embassy was moved to Jerusalem because the American people have, through their elected officials for the last 25 years, directed the president to do exactly that, and Donald Trump was the first president to do so. That’s the beginning and the end of the Jerusalem decision,” he said.
Friedman said that he believes “we’ll see more embassies moved” to Jerusalem. “I think there are a lot of countries that are really interested in it, and I would give it a little bit more time.”
The US Ambassador said that while he was not lobbying or pushing countries to follow the US’s lead on this matter, “I can tell you that I’ve had discussions, not discussions that I’ve initiated, but I’ve had discussions with a number of countries which indicated to me that they’re thinking about it seriously, and that they’re going through their own internal processes now.”
Friedman asserted that Trump’s decision to move the embassy “has reverberated through the world,” from the Korean Peninsula, through Iran and to other parts around the globe.
“It has sent exactly the right signal to our friends and to our foes: that the United States can be trusted at its word; that the United States does not act out of fear, but out of strength,” he maintained.
The ambassador said the embassy move was easily the highlight of his tenure here so far – he assumed his position in May 2017 – with the lowest point being the condolence calls he makes to shiva homes of terror victims. This, he said, “has a very significant effect on me, because it’s hard to see in that environment the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Friedman said that while there “are a lot of good Palestinian people out there who don’t celebrate terrorists, they’re being drowned out by those who do. And it is hard to see that type of inhumanity and not see the means of ending it. That’s certainly what we want to do. We want to bring an end to it.”
Friedman would not say when the administration would roll-out its long-awaited peace blueprint, but denied that its presentation was in any way connected to the US midterm elections in November.
Asked what use there is in presenting the plan when the Palestinians have already rejected it, sight unseen, he replied: “Isn’t that ridiculous? That the Palestinian leaders ruled out a plan without seeing it? We’re going to hope that at some point – with someone – clarity and rationality will prevail.”
Friedman added, “The idea of rejecting a plan that you haven’t seen strikes me as being grossly irresponsible. You want to read it and tell us what you don’t like about it, by all means. You want to read it and say, ‘It’s not acceptable.’ Sure, that’s your right. But to not know what’s in there, and to reject it out of hand, and to cause others within the leadership to refrain from having conversations because you don’t like something you haven’t read, just strikes me as being grossly irresponsible when you’re trying to lead a couple of million people to a better future.”
Regarding Israel’s relationship with Trump, Friedman dismissed as “nonsense” the argument that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was getting too close to the divisive US president, something that could come back to haunt Israel when Trump leaves office.
“Donald Trump is the president of the United States; the United States is the most important ally of the State of Israel; it’s also the richest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world,” he said.
“There is no Israeli leader – left, middle or center – who would not embrace the relationship with Donald Trump. The idea that the prime minister of Israel – whoever he might be – has the luxury not to deal with the American president with respect and loyalty, to me just makes no sense at all.”
The full interview with US Ambassador David Friedman will run in Sunday’s special Post holiday magazine.