US ambassador pays condolence visit at MK’s West Bank home

Deflecting suggestions it is unusual for US officials to visit settlements, David Friedman says he only came to pay respects

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman paid a condolence visit at the home of Likud MK Yehudah Glick in the settlement of Otniel on Wednesday.

Glick’s wife, Yaffa, died on Monday at the age of 51 after six months in a coma due to a severe stroke.

While US officials rarely visit settlements, Friedman was not the first American ambassador to do so. His predecessor Dan Shapiro paid condolence visits at the homes of grieving lawmakers Avigdor Liberman and Yuli Edelstein in the settlements Nokdim and Neve Daniel, respectively.

After a reporter commented on how “unusual” it was to see an American ambassador in an Israeli settlement, Friedman said he was simply there to pay his respects. “I’d offer condolences to anyone I thought I could bring comfort to anywhere, any time, any place,” he said.

US Ambassador David Friedman (holding item) pays a condolence call at the home of Likud MK Yehudah Glick (far right) in the West Bank settlement of Otniel on January 3, 2018. (Courtesy Har Hebron Regional Council)

Elaborating on his decision to visit, Friedman described the Likud lawmaker as “someone whose heart’s in the right place.”

“He’s very committed to Israel, committed to the relationship with the United States, committed to peace, committed to treating all of his neighbors — Christian, Muslim, Arab — with respect,” the ambassador added.

The question of US policy vis-à-vis Israeli settlements was raised anew earlier this week when Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that Friedman had asked the US State Department to stop calling Israel’s control over the West Bank an “occupation” in official documents. He reportedly recommended using the term “West Bank territory” instead of the “occupied territories.”

The State Department rejected the request, according to the report, but agreed to take up the subject again in the future. A State Department official later called the report “twisted and misleading” when asked for comment.

US Ambassador David Friedman (L) embraces Likud MK Yehudah Glick while paying a condolence call at his home in the West Bank settlement of Otniel on January 3, 2018. (Courtesy Har Hebron Regional Council)

Pressed on Tuesday to elaborate on the State Department’s reported objection to Friedman’s request, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert simply said US policy on the matter “hasn’t changed.”

In the early days of the Donald Trump administration the White House insisted that settlements were not “an impediment to peace,” but during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in February, the president told the prime minister that he’d like him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” and said in a Hebrew newspaper interview that settlements are “not a good thing for peace.”

At the same time, Israel advanced nearly 8,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the first half of 2017, according to a December European Union report — a considerable increase over previous years — and no public condemnation was issued by the US.

Unlike previous US envoys, Friedman was known to be a strong supporter of Israeli settlements before he took office, serving as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports the large West Bank settlement near Ramallah.

That support has continued since his appointment as ambassador. In September, Friedman said that settlements “are part of Israel.”

In November, he canceled an appearance at a memorial ceremony for slain American teen Ezra Schwartz in the wake of a media report that it would be taking place at an illegal West Bank outpost.

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