US envoy blasts Palestinians’ ‘anti-Semitic’ reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem move

David Friedman says response was an ’emotional overreaction,’ US Jews owe president ‘debt of gratitude’ for recognizing Israeli capital

File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)
File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)

US Ambassador David Friedman criticized the Palestinian reaction to US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, describing the response as provocative, unnecessary, and “anti-Semitic.”

Friedman, who strongly supported the US policy shift regarding the capital, said the Palestinians were “largely emotional” and “unfortunately overreacted.”

US President Donald Trump, he noted, had made clear that the US was “not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” The Palestinian response was “ugly, needlessly provocative and anti-Semitic,” Friedman told the Jerusalem Post in an interview published Thursday.

At a December 13 emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held in Istanbul to discuss the US policy shift, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to roll back its recognition of Israel, said the Palestinians would no longer work with the US, and threatened the Palestinians might no longer be bound by commitments agreed to in earlier peace talks.

He also refused to recognize any historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Despite the Palestinians saying they would no longer accept a US role in the peace process, Friedman remained confident Washington would remain involved at Israel’s insistence.

“Israel has made it clear that they will not engage under the sponsorship of any other nation,” he said. “You cannot clap with one hand. Moreover, only the United States has the regional credibility to bring forward a historic peace agreement.”

“There is no path around the United States,” he declared.

In a December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

In the days that followed there were near daily riots in the West Bank and on the Israel-Gaza border, during which 12 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. Hamas, the terror group which rules Gaza, called for a violent new intifada and allowed thousands of Palestinians to confront Israeli troops at the border fence.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Friedman said he felt that US Jews, who largely didn’t vote for Trump in the presidential elections, now owed the president their support due to his recognition of Jerusalem.

“I firmly believe that American Jews of all streams owe the president an enormous debt of gratitude for his historic decision in favor of Jerusalem,” he said. “While the president didn’t reach his decision in order to curry favor with any constituency, he certainly deserves all the thanks that he has received.”

Trump, he asserted, will be remembered as “as one of Israel’s greatest friends.”

“We must all recognize and applaud the courage and moral clarity displayed by the president in affirming, against the wishes of so many other nations, the centrality of Jerusalem to Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.

Friedman also spoke of planned US legislation that will seek to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority if it continues paying wages to the families of terrorists.

“We are a nation of laws – and those laws exist to reflect important government policies,” he said, referring to the Taylor Force Act, named after a US citizen murdered in a Palestinian stabbing attack in Tel Aviv. “There is absolutely no reason why the Palestinians cannot comply with these laws and, if they do, the peace process will be greatly advanced.”

Earlier this week, 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 subsequently said the report was inaccurate.

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