U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who earned his position due to saving Donald Trump’s ass from bankruptcy a number of times, is Trump’s envoy to Settler Israel. The poor soul has gotten himself into hot water recently for visiting a settler NGO and posing with a picture of the city of Jerusalem in which the Haram al Sharif had been obliterated and replaced, via photoshop, with a rebuilt Third Temple. In the image, which has raced across the Israeli and world media, Friedman beams as one of the NGO’s staff regales him with the blown-up image of Jerusalem. Everyone is clearly having a fine old time.
Until, that is, the media got wind of it and featured the image on their front pages. You see, it’s a tad inconvenient for a U.S. ambassador to implicitly endorse the destruction of the third holiest Muslim site in the world. Not that Friedman doesn’t support this eventuality. He just can’t be seen to be doing so. Thus, Heather Nauert, State Department spokesflack told the media that Friedman was “disappointed” that the image had been used in this fashion. He wasn’t disappointed in himself or even the NGO itself. But rather that he’d been caught inflagrante pimping for a settler dream: the reconstruction of the ancient temple.
Yes, he claimed that the NGO “duped” him. But if that was the case, the funding the U.S. embassy provides the group would’ve been stopped immediately. The NGO itself said it was disappointed in the staff member who pulled the alleged stunt. Not that he would be fired or even disciplined. But that he would be “made aware” that he’s done wrong. This is ‘punishment’ via a wink and a nod.
By the way, earlier media reports noted that Friedman’s family foundation had donated tens of thousands of dollars to another settler NGO, Kommemiyut, which advocates not just for the rebuilding of the Temple, but the abrogation of Israeli democracy and its replacement with a Judean monarchy based upon Jewish law. There are monarchists around the world who dream of restoring ancient dynastic families. And most of the rest of us, including their own countrymen and women view them as kooks. In Israel, such kooks control virtually all the levers of political power. They would destroy the Haram in a heartbeat if they thought the world would let them get away with it.
Kommemiyut (whose name roughly translates as “divine sovereignty”) is an outgrowth of the Kahanist movement and included on the U.S. Treasury Department terror list. So there you have it: something that would’ve been unthinkable in any previous U.S. presidency in the history of the republic: a U.S. ambassador who supports not just a group his own government designates as terrorist, but a group which advocates the overthrow of the Israeli secular state.
The leader of the group in subsequent news reports claimed that though his group had the same name as the one on the terror list it couldn’t possibly be the same because his version was founded in 2006. Same name, same ideology, same leaders–but not the same group. If you believe this I have a bridge to sell you.
My final Friedmanism is an interview he gave in his brand spanking new office in the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem to Haaretz diplomatic correspondent, Barak Ravid. Most of the interview was typical uninteresting pablum. But this statement stood out for its sheer effrontery:
“We have confidence that if we are able to propose something that is in the best interest of the Palestinian people, the leadership will ultimately rise to the occasion or they will be forced to rise to the occasion. I think anything that we propose will be something that it’s obvious that the Palestinians will be better off with it than without it.”
I’ve always said that I no longer believe there is any reasonable agreement that Israelis would accept willingly; and that the only way to achieve such a comprehensive solution to the conflict is for the world to impose it on both sides. But here Friedman does me one better: he proposes a settlement totally tilted in Israel’s favor, but which the Palestinians will reject (for that reason). He proposes to ram the agreement down the Palestinians’ throat, though he doesn’t say how this will be done. Certainly not with U.S. troops, since Israel has rejected such proposals outright in the past. If you use Israeli troops to impose such an agreement it will be virtually an extension of the current Occupation.
Will Saudi troops be stationed in Ramallah? Or perhaps a joint Sunni peacekeeping force including Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, etc.? If so, that should go over swimmingly. About as well as Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen is going. I can see it now: a Sunni Occupation of Palestine with the Palestinians themselves revolting, thus creating the same type of civil war that’s now raging in Syria. Imagine the fun Iran, Hezbollah and Assad could have with that prospect! And all on Israel’s doorstep.
All of this would be so much arrant nonsense if the idiots proposing it didn’t have the full force of the U.S. government and military behind them. If they take a notion to do something, anything, they could wreak havoc on the world through their foolishness. What will stop them? Perhaps their own dysfunction and incompetence? It’s worked well regarding the numerous failed legislative and foreign policy initiatives of Trump’s presidency so far. But there may come a time when our luck will run out and all Trump’s horses and all Trump’s men will do something truly horrendous and won’t be able to put the Middle East back together again. That’s what I fear more than almost anything.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.