At AIPAC, Trump’s Israel envoy takes aim at Democrats, pushes peace plan
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Friedman: 'Hating Donald Trump is not an Israel policy'

At AIPAC, Trump’s Israel envoy takes aim at Democrats, pushes peace plan

David Friedman launches partisan broadside against progressives, backs settlements, even as pro-Israel lobby attempts to highlight bipartisanship

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gave a scathing and highly partisan speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference on Monday night, castigating the American left for opposing US President Donald Trump’s Israel policies and Mideast peace plan.

At a forum that has historically been used to foster bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill, the president’s Israel envoy tried to emphasize the fault lines that exist between Democrats and Republicans, all the while dismissing criticism of the White House’s Israeli-Palestinian proposal as politically motivated.

“To my friends on the left: Hating Donald Trump is not an Israel policy,” Friedman told a crowd of 18,000 gathered in the nation’s capital. “If the only reason you don’t like our policy and Israel is that you don’t like our president, regrettably, we will remain unnecessarily, endlessly divided and potentially miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

In late January, the Trump team released a proposal that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in roughly 70% of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave, and fulfill other conditions.

The proposal also allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel.

Democrats, and others, have criticized the plan for allowing Israel to annex the existing West Bank settlements. Previous peace plans have called for mutually agreed upon land swaps — in which some settlements would stay in place in exchange for land in Israel proper that would go to a future Palestinian state — but critics say any territorial disputes should be resolved in the context of an agreement reached by the two parties.

Friedman lambasted the idea of withdrawing Israeli settlements from the West Bank. “Under the Trump administration, the Biblical heartland of Israel, Judea and Samaria, will never be judenrein,” he said, using a Nazi term for an area where Jews are excluded.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury / US Embassy Jerusalem)

Friedman also took aim at the Barack Obama administration for not taking the same controversial actions that the Trump White House has, all of which have been seen as tipping the scales in Israel’s favor.

“Had President Obama — with whom I had profound disagreements — had he moved our embassy to Jerusalem, had he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, had he restored tough sanctions on Iran, and authored President Trump’s vision for peace, I would have been the first to applaud, and I’d still be applauding today,” he said.

“Of course, none of these things were done by President Obama. In fact, they were all achieved by President Donald J. Trump. And for that we should all be the first to be applauding today.”

He also scolded the Obama White House for allowing the passage of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned the settlement enterprise, characterizing it as a “betrayal.”

Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel of New York speak to AIPAC’s annual policy conference on March 25, 2019. (AIPAC via JTA)

Friedman’s remarks came as AIPAC has sought to convey a strong message of bipartisanship, after Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders tweeted last week that he would skip the confab, saying it gave a platform to “express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also declined the organization’s invitation.

Since then, the powerful lobbying group announced a slew of Democratic speakers — including Sanders’ Democratic rivals, former vice president Joe Biden and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg — and orchestrated a series of breakout sessions the group said were meant to highlight “the progressive aspect of the US-Israel relationship.”

Nonetheless, some speakers have highlighted the rift, including Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who on Sunday told the conference that Sanders was “either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both.”

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