David Friedman: Embassy Move Serves U.S. Interests, Not Part of Israeli 'Give-and-take'

The U.S. ambassador to Israel says embassy move 'will create greater stability in the long run,' 'far too early to measure reactions'

Road signs directing to the U.S. embassy are seen on a truck in Jerusalem on May 7, 2018.
THOMAS COEX/AFP

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Friday that the decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, set to take place next week, wasn't made as part of a "give and take" with Israel, but rather based on "the interests of the United States."

>> U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem: Everything you need to know >>

Friedman spoke to reporters via phone on Friday afternoon, together with White House foreign policy adviser Victoria Coates. Friedman said in the briefing to journalists that "this is something that serves the United States. There is no give and take with Israel with regards to this decision."

Friedman added that "there are people who are happy with the decision and people who are unhappy, but it's far too early to measure reactions. We are convinced this decision creates a platform and an opportunity to promote a peace process based on realities, not fantasies. We're sure it will create greater stability in the long run."

The U.S also intends to relocate its ambassador's residence to Jerusalem as well, Friedman said, noting that his private residence is not approved for that purpose. Friedman splits his time between the Jerusalem residence and the U.S. ambassador's official residence in the city of Herzliya in central Israel. 

The White House insisted at first that Friedman and Coates will not be identified in news reports of the briefing, but rather, described as "senior American officials." 

Hours after the briefing ended, however, and after news reports had already been published in multiple media outlets, the American embassy in Israel unusually asked media outlets to change their stories by using Friedman and Coates' names, instead of calling them "American officials." The embassy didn't explain why it was requesting this change, or why it was doing so hours after the briefing had ended.  

The Palestinian Authority severed its ties with the Donald Trump administration following its decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and some leading Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Jordan, have also criticized the decision. Friedman said, however, that "this has not isolated" either the United States or Israel, pointing to recent cooperations between the United States and European allies, such as a joint attack in Syria last month.

Coates, who participated in the briefing, mentioned a tweet published by Bahrain's foreign minister expressing support for Israel's right to defend itself against Iran. "That was enormously important," she stated. "It's a sea change we've been waiting for. It's so important to see an Arab nation recognize Israel as a country, and a country that has a right to defend itself."

With regards to the Palestinian reaction, Friedman stated that "the Palestinians for decades had a veto over the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That was empowering leverage in a way that's not helpful." Friedman added that under Trump, "circumstances are changing. People have to get on board."

Coates said that the administration is monitoring reports about potential demonstrations and riots, but added that the recent wave of demonstrations and confrontations on the Israel-Gaza border are not related to any decision by the United States. "We support peaceful protests - but the key word here is peaceful. In Gaza there are many, many people protesting peacefully, but others flying kites with swastikas and setting fires," she said.