Donald Trump’s chief of staff said on Sunday that the president-elect’s pick of lawyer David Friedman as the ambassador to Israel was not an indication that he rejects the notion of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“There’s going to be things that individually people may believe in their hearts or in their mind,” Priebus said Sunday of Trump’s nominees to top posts. “But ultimately, it’s their job to represent the president-elect of the United States and his foreign policy.”
Over the course of the presidential campaign, Friedman was outspoken on his belief that West Bank settlement activity is not an obstacle to peace and that Israel does not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians. The 57-year-old bankruptcy attorney, a Hebrew-speaker, served along with Jason Dov Greenblatt on Trump’s Israel advisory committee during the campaign, becoming one of his main representatives to the Jewish community and Jewish media.
The tapping of Friedman has garnered criticism from liberal Jewish-American groups, who called the nomination reckless and dangerous, and Jewish congressmen who argued that the pick underscores the incoming administration’s “extremist agenda,” and will strain the Israel-US relationship.
Friedman’s nomination also drew ire over a June column for the right-wing Israel National News website, in which he accused J Street supporters of being “far worse than kapos,” referring to Jews who aided Nazis during the Holocaust.
Trump’s transition team announced the nomination on Thursday, in a statement that quoted Friedman predicting he would work from “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m president,” Trump said in the statement. “As the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”
In the statement, Friedman said he was “deeply honored and humbled” that Trump selected him to represent the US in Israel, and that he aimed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
It was a further indication of the incoming president’s apparent resolve to follow through on his campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Last week, it was reported that the Trump team was already planning the move, including undertaking advance work on the project, after his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said it was “a very big priority for him.”
In a November interview with The Times of Israel in November, Friedman indicated that Trump would seek to forge a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but was open to alternatives outside the two-state framework embraced by official US policy for decades.
Friedman stated that, based on his discussions with Trump, “a two-state solution is not a priority” for the president-elect. “I don’t think he is wed to any particularly outcome. A two-state solution is a way, but it’s not the only way.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be pleased with the incoming US ambassador to Israel. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have voiced their concerns, calling the nomination “a warning signal.”
‘A spin job’
Preibus and Conway took to the airwaves on Sunday to address a number of criticisms leveled at the president-elect and his campaign, saying he wasn’t ready to accept the finding by intelligence officials that Moscow hacked Democratic emails in a bid to elevate Trump. Even if it was true, they said, Trump still won the White House fair and square.
The pushback came a day before members of the Electoral College are scheduled to formally cast votes for Trump as the 45th president. While Democrats likely are powerless to stop it, they suggested Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton would forever be tainted by Russian meddling.
“This whole thing is a spin job,” said Priebus. “And I think what the Democrats ought to do is look in the mirror and face the reality that they lost the election.”
Trump himself weighed in Sunday evening, tweeting, “If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!”
The partisan swipes mostly ignored warnings by foreign policy experts that part of Russia’s calculation also was likely payback for years of US criticism of its own elections and a desire to portray America as a flawed champion of democracy — potentially weakening US power on the world stage. Russia has vehemently denied the accusation.
Many lawmakers, including some leading Republicans, say voters may not have been swayed by the release of tens of thousands of private emails. But the fact that a foreign power tried to intervene in US democracy and exploit divisions in American politics is cause for alarm, they say.
Still, Trump’s transition team and loyalists on Capitol Hill weren’t buying it, at least not on the eve of the Electoral College vote.
“Where’s the evidence?” asked Conway.
Asked about President Barack Obama’s vow to retaliate against the Russians, Conway said: “It seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary, who can’t accept the election results.”
Democrats say it’s unlikely the public will ever hear detailed evidence because doing so would disclose classified sources and methods. But with last week’s declaration by CIA Director John Brennan that there was “strong consensus” that Russia hacked Democrats to try to sway the election, lawmakers are stepping up demands for closed-door briefings and a separate congressional investigation.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said an unclassified intelligence review could be released within the next two weeks or three weeks.
As president-elect, Trump would have access to high-level intelligence on the matter, although it’s unclear what he’s been told. Trump has previously called the intelligence finding of Russian involvement “ridiculous.” On Sunday, Conway said she wasn’t privy to the same intelligence briefings as the president-elect and couldn’t say what he knows.
Donna Brazile, interim head of the Democratic National Committee, said the DNC was no match for a sophisticated foreign power in cyberspace that “weaponized” private emails to “sow misinformation and to sow discord” between Clinton and her primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Also on Sunday:
— Brazile said the cyberattacks against the DNC occurred every day through the end of the election. The comment seemed to contradict Obama assertion that they stopped after he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
— Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., called for creation of a special Senate investigative committee focused on Russia, China and Iran potentially trying to interfere in US elections through high-tech meddling.
— Priebus said he was “100 percent confident” that the Senate would confirm Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Trump’s secretary of state. The oil company oil executive has deep ties to Russia and no government experience.
Priebus appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” Conway was interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Brazile and Schiff were on ABC’s “This Week.”