Netanyahu welcomes envoy Friedman to ‘Jerusalem, our eternal capital’
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PM: I know you went straight to the Western Wall; Friedman: There was no other place to go

Netanyahu welcomes envoy Friedman to ‘Jerusalem, our eternal capital’

Arrival of new US ambassador comes amid renewed calls for Trump to honor pledge to move embassy to city, tensions over Western Wall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with newly appointed US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, May 16, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with newly appointed US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, May 16, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday met with new US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Prime Minister’s Office, welcoming him to Jerusalem.

“It’s a joy to see you and to welcome you to Jerusalem, our eternal capital,” Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to Friedman’s comment after being tapped for the post that he looked “forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Friedman’s arrival in Israel coincided with a flurry of controversies surrounding the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump to Israel, his visit to the Western Wall and the ongoing debate over whether the US will, or should, move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“I know you visited the Western Wall, which we all appreciate,” the prime minister said to Friedman.

“There was no other place to go,” Friedman replied.

“It was a strong gesture of solidarity,” said Netanyahu.

The two agreed to work together to continue to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Before meeting Netanyahu, Friedman presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, officially marking the start of his tenure as the American envoy to the Jewish state.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported that when the Israeli national anthem was played at the ceremony, Friedman initially murmured along — “familiar habit” from years of Israel events, said the TV reporter — before realizing that this might not be appropriate.

Friedman’s arrival in Israel on Monday came amid calls by Netanyahu and several Israeli lawmakers for the US to move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, following comments by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday that Trump is weighing whether the move would help or harm the prospects of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Despite promising during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would move the US embassy, Trump has since hedged on the plan amid his increasing efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Friedman’s arrival also came during an unusual diplomatic spat between US and Israeli officials surrounding Trump’s planned visit to the Western Wall next week.

According to Channel 2, a US official involved in making preparations for Trump’s visit angrily rejected a request that Netanyahu accompany the president when he visits the Jewish holy site in Jerusalem, and then sniped at his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

In response, the Prime Minister’s Office said it believed the comments did not represent the president’s position, an assertion confirmed by a senior Trump administration officials hours later.

“The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the president,” the official told The Times of Israel.

New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman kisses the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman kisses the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Despite his pledge to work from Jerusalem, Friedman — who also owns an apartment in Jerusalem — will work out of the Tel Aviv embassy and live at the ambassador’s official residence in Herzliya. In addition, he will use an office at the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem, as many of his predecessors have.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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