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Palestinian Authority lashes out at event

Ex-US envoy Friedman: We’ll bring thousands of Muslim tourists to Jerusalem

At gala opening of Peace through Strength Center, former ambassador says Arab-Israeli conflict on cusp of ending; Pompeo swipes Biden over Afghanistan withdrawal

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the gala opening of the Friedman Center for Peace through  Strength in Jerusalem, October 11, 2021 (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)
Former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the gala opening of the Friedman Center for Peace through Strength in Jerusalem, October 11, 2021 (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)

Speaking at the gala opening of The Friedman Center for Peace through Strength at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on Monday night, former US ambassador David Friedman said that his fledgling organization will work to bring Muslims to Jerusalem, so that they see for themselves the way Israel protects holy sites, including the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Muslim tourism to Israel was a central pillar of the Donald Trump administration’s approach to Middle East peace, Friedman added.

“We are on the cusp of ending the Israeli-Arab conflict and changing the Middle East,” he said to applause.

The glitzy event was attended by Trump administration officials — including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin — and Israeli officials, ambassadors, and businessmen. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister during the signing of the Abraham Accords and currently the opposition leader, arrived late with his wife, Sara.

The US-brokered normalization deals with Arab countries were reached one year ago.

International guests included Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Ivanka Trump, businesswoman and daughter of former US President, her husband Jared Kushner, and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attend the launch of the “Friedman Center for Peace through Strength” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem on October 11, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

After being presented with the first Peace through Strength award by David Friedman, Pompeo said that peace comes from strength, truth, and clarity. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights was simply a matter of stating an evident truth, he argued

“Peace is difficult to maintain if one is unwilling to acknowledge the truth,” he said.

“One needs to be unambiguous about who the good guys are – we know the problems that the Islamic Republic of Iran was driving in the region,” Pompeo continued.

Pompeo also implicitly criticized US President Joe Biden’s administration over its August withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying, “We knew it was important to be strong to the end.”

Pompeo thanked Netanyahu by name along with the leaders of the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, which signed on to the Abraham Accords, but did not mention Prime Minister Naftali Bennett or Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

The Friedman Center has offices in Jerusalem and Florida, and will work to advance peace in the region by building on the Abraham Accords.

(L to R) FIFA President Gianni Infantino, former US secretary of the treasury Steve Mnuchin, and former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend the launch of the “Friedman Center for Peace through Strength” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem on October 11, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry blasted the event, saying that Friedman is “notorious for his extremist positions and support for annexation, colonization and other crimes under international law in addition to his notorious efforts at denying the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

The PA also decried the fact that the event was held at the Museum of Tolerance, built on the site of Muslim graves: “One of the basic requirements for peace is respect of religious sites, maintaining their status quo, and their status, and in the particular case of the Mamilla cemetery, to allow for its restoration rather than to continue the process of desecration.”

Earlier in the day, the Knesset launched a new caucus dedicated to the Abraham Accords.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were in attendance alongside Netanyahu, representing the since-ousted US and Israeli leaderships that signed the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

But Defense Minister Benny Gantz — who also held that position during the previous Netanyahu-led government — touted the role of his own Blue and White party in reaching the accords, which were announced alongside the scrapping of plans to annex large swaths of the West Bank.

(Right to left) Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Ofir Akunis at an event launching a Knesset caucus dedicated to the Abraham Accords, in Jerusalem, October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The fact that we prevented a unilateral annexation enabled the Abraham Accords to solidify and move ahead,” Gantz said, in an apparent swipe at Netanyahu.

Netanyahu himself, who met Kushner and Trump in the Knesset before the event, said: “As long as people said peace can’t be made with the Arab world without peace with the Palestinians, we couldn’t have achieved peace. We broke the Palestinian veto and brought four historic peace deals.”

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