The most important decision taken by the Trump administration with regard to Israel over the past four years was recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, outgoing U.S. ambassador David Friedman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
That decision not only laid the groundwork for normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, but also strengthened President Donald Trump worldwide, Friedman said.
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“I really think that now, having the benefit of four years of perspective, I really do think now that the most important thing that we did was what we did early on, which was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I think that set the right theme for our presidency,” Friedman told the Knesset committee.
“I think it strengthened the president not just here, I think it strengthened the president throughout the world. I think it strengthened him with Iran, I think it strengthened him with North Korea, I think it strengthened him everywhere in the world because we took the position that America will stand with its friends, America will not flinch, American will not be afraid of its enemies or those who challenge it, and America will stand for the truth,” he said.
At the farewell event, Friedman made no mention of the violent assault on the Capitol last week, for which Trump has been widely blamed. Before assuming his diplomatic position four years ago, Friedman, a bankruptcy specialist, served as Trump’s lawyer. He also served on a volunteer basis as chairman of an American organization that fundraises for the West Bank settlement of Beit El. He continues to enjoy close ties to leaders of the settlement movement.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who was invited to the ceremony, warmly praised the outgoing ambassador and asked him to convey his thanks to Trump for supporting Israel during his presidential term. Neither Levin nor any of the committee members who thanked Friedman mentioned last week’s riots on Capitol Hill.
In his remarks, Friedman noted that the administration had been warned that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would cause an “explosion.”
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"And they were right,” he said, pointing to the subsequent normalization agreements. "It was an explosion of peace – not an explosion of violence.” On May 14, 2018, the day the embassy in Jerusalem was officially inaugurated (coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel's founding), approximately 60 Palestinians were killed in violent clashes along Israel’s border fence with the Gaza Strip.
Friedman told the Knesset committee he plans to leave his position in nine days, just before the Biden administration takes office on January 20.
Asked at the committee meeting about anticipated changes in U.S. policy toward Israel under the Biden administration, he said that the new administration would seek to return the United States to the international nuclear accord with Iran, from which Trump withdrew. Friedman warned that reentering the pact would be a major mistake, but noted that the Biden administration would undoubtedly be friendly towards Israel and would adopt a tough tone towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which Friedman said was also good for Israel.
The outgoing American ambassador predicted that the Biden administration would resume humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and would take a more critical line towards Israeli settlements, but would make domestic issues its major priority.
Asked about the American-Jewish lobbying group J Street, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is a vocal critic of the occupation of the West Bank, Friedman said as a Zionist, he is against Jews in the United States applying pressure on the U.S. administration to get Israel to act against its will.
In a statement issued to the press on Friday, Friedman commented on the events on Capitol Hill, saying they “proved our resilience in the face of unprecedented stress.” He did not mention the role of the president in inciting the violence. He congratulated Biden for the first time on his election and offered him “any assistance that may be requested to aid in transition."