On Friday, the settlers and the Israeli right in power had reason to celebrate. They could barely contain their joy for the appointment announced by Donald Trump of his adviser and friend of the most radical Israeli right David Friedman as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Since Trump won the presidential elections in the U.S., not a day has passed without some good news for the Netanyahu government and the religious ultranationalists who dominate the Israeli political scene. Not that the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton did not give them enough guarantees of alliance. But with Trump, it’s a nonstop party. Far different from the cantankerous Barack Obama.
To be sure, the outgoing president has done nothing to encourage a just response to the Palestinian issue. But he condemned the colonization of the Occupied Territories and has also made a nuclear deal with the Iranians defying Israel. So with the Obama presidency winding down, Friedman signals a new dawn in the denial of the rights of Arabs and Palestinians, starting from Jerusalem, passing through the occupied Syrian Golan to the Gaza Strip, besieged for the last 10 years.
The settlers emphasized Friday that Friedman “is a stalwart supporter of settlements.” Yochai Damari, President of the Regional Council of Hebron settlers, was enthusiastic and said that Trump proves with this appointment to be “a sincere and loyal partner of Israel.” The Obama days “are over,” said Damari, explaining that taking into account Trump’s intentions, Prime Minister Netanyahu should “carry on the construction (in the colonies) and extend the Jewish sovereignty over half a million Jews (settlers) who reside there.”
The prime minister has not responded, but he later made it known he is satisfied with the new U.S. ambassador. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tizpi Hotovely said, “Friedman’s positions reflect a desire to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
In his first statement after his appointment, Friedman, who in the past has equated leftist Jews with Nazi Jewish collaborators, said he’s looking forward to working in the eternal capital of Israel, Jerusalem. He confirmed the intention, announced by Trump during the election campaign, to move the embassy to Jerusalem to recognize the whole city, even its Arab side occupied since 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians, as the capital of Israel.
Will Trump really pass the Rubicon and light up the Middle East? Will he give the green light to the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which stalled in the U.S. Congress in 1995, that orders the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem? In early December, Obama signed a new half-year extension for the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, a habit from the days of the Clinton presidency. All new tenants of the White House have issued executive orders that have blocked the entry into force of the Act on grounds of “national security.” With Trump and his executive team of hawks supporters of Israel, it will likely go in another direction.
Friedman’s appointment is yet another U.S. blow to Palestinian aspirations for freedom and independence. The new ambassador, like Trump, has stated he is skeptical (to say the least) about the two-state solution, causing great distress to President Mahmoud Abbas, who has devoted his political career to that principle for the last 20 years.
In fact, the Trump administration, in addition to giving Jerusalem to Israel, is laying the foundation for the annexation of the occupied territories (except the uncomfortable Gaza) to the Jewish state and the establishment of recognized ghettos in the A areas of the West Bank, represented today by the main Palestinian cities.
How will the PNA and Hamas respond to this? No new signals have been received from Ramallah and Gaza. The PNA, through its anonymous sources, spoke of a “substantial change in the historical and strategic position of the U.S. toward the Palestinians and the conflict with Israel,” but it did not explain the change, since Washington, even during Obama’s presidency, did not favor the respect of international law for the future of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Ekrama Sabri, a well-known imam at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and, in the past Grand Mufti of the Palestinians, has the opposite opinion. He said that Friedman’s appointment “is a new declaration of war against the Palestinians, all Arabs and Muslims.” He added that the relocation of the U.S. embassy would be a recognition of Jerusalem “as the capital of the Jews only.”
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