Israeli Lawmaker to Rivlin: Reject Friedman as Ambassador Over Illegal Settlement Building

Meretz MK Issawi Frej cites Friedman's connections to illegal structures built on private Palestinian land in West Bank settlement of Beit El in call to reject his credentials if approved as ambassador to Israel.

David Friedman prepares to leave a hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, during a break in his confirmation hearing.
Susan Walsh/AP

A member of the Knesset opposition is urging Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to reject the credentials of David Friedman, if he is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Israel, because of his involvement in illegal construction activity on privately owned Palestinian land. 

“It is inconceivable that an ambassador will serve in a country where he is in violation of the law,” said Issawi Frej, a member of the left-wing Meretz party. “It is an inherent conflict of interest that cannot be permitted. Friedman must choose between supporting illegal construction and representing the United States.”

Frej, the only Arab serving on behalf of Meretz in the Knesset, made the comments at a cultural event in Rehovot on Saturday.

As reported earlier this week, a building in the West Bank settlement of Beit El dedicated by Friedman and his wife was constructed illegally on privately owned Palestinian land.

The Friedman Faculty House at the Raaya Girls High School is situated in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El. Part of this neighborhood was demolished by High Court of Justice order five years ago because the land had been seized illegally. The Friedman Faculty House is one of nine buildings left in the neighborhood that were spared demolition at the time.

Construction on the Friedman Faculty House began in 1999. In 2002, a demolition order was issued against it by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which supervises construction in the settlements. Although it has been ignored, demolition order No. 224/02, according to Civil Administration records, is still on the books. The Palestinian landowners and their heirs have tried several times to reclaim the land and have the buildings removed, but to no avail. 

This coming week, the landowners and their heirs plan to submit a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding that all the remaining buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood, including the Friedman Faculty House, be taken down.

The building dedicated by the Friedman family is one of several located on a plot known in the land registry as Block 5 Parcel 30. A copy of the original deed for that plot shows that the owners are Palestinians from the nearby village of Dura al-Qara. 

The president of Israel serves a primarily symbolic role. Among his powers and responsibilities is endorsing the credentials of foreign ambassadors.

Frej said Rivlin should not endorse Friedman unless the ambassador takes back all contributions he and his family members have made in support of illegal building projects on private Palestinian land.

Friedman’s Senate confirmations hearings began on Thursday. His appointment has yet to be approved.