U.S. Ambassador to Israel Visits West Bank Settlement, Breaking 'Longstanding Red Line'

David Friedman says his visit to Ariel included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian businessmen 'willing to advance coexistence,' but J Street says it 'sends a clear message of support for the settlement movement'

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on October 29, 2017.
מתי שטרן / שגרירות

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman participated in an event in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on Tuesday, drawing condemnation for breaking a long-standing precedent which has seen serving ambassadors refrain from visiting Jewish communities beyond the 1967 Green Line.

J Street, the pro-peace U.S. Jewish lobbying organization, said Friedman’s visit, which he claimed included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, infringed on “a major, longstanding red line of bipartisan U.S. policy.”

“With unprecedented actions like these, the Trump administration is driving home the point that they have no real interest in promoting a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — now or in the future,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s vice president of government affairs. “The Trump administration continues to send a clear message of support for the settlement movement and the agenda of the Israeli right.”

Like other U.S. ambassadors before him, Friedman has visited settlements in a private capacity, usually to console the Jewish families of terror victims. Last January, he also visited the settlement of Otniel to participate in the shiva of the late wife of Knesset member Yehuda Glick.

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Friedman was invited to Ariel by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which describes itself as working “to advance a vibrant and integrated regional economy in Israel's most diversified business ecosystem.” The group’s Facebook page features a photograph of Friedman meeting with its member at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

Following, Friedman said in a tweet that he met “with Palestinian & Israeli business leaders ready, willing & able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace & we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”

J Street described Friedman as “a longtime benefactor of the settlement movement” who is “actively work(ing) to erode the distinction between Israel and the occupied territory it controls beyond the Green Line.”

Before Friedman was appointed ambassador by U.S. President Donald Trump, he headed American Friends of Beit El Institutions, a fundraising organization that has raised tens of millions of dollars for one of the most radical settlements in the West Bank.

The issue was raised during his confirmation hearings and Friedman promised that he would not visit Beit El while serving as ambassador.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told Haaretz in response to the criticism: "as the president has said repeatedly, the administration is firmly committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"In support of the President’s peace plan, U.S. Ambassador Friedman is working to promote peaceful coexistence and stronger people to people connections between Israelis and Palestinians because people that work together and do business together are more likely to form bonds of friendship and live together in peace.

"The ambassador was encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of the Israeli and Palestinian business leaders he met with yesterday to work together to create more economic opportunity and peaceful coexistence within the region.”