What makes a good ambassador? To the opponents of David Friedman, the answer appears to be adherence to their preferred policy positions, especially the two-state solution. Friedman is condemned as an extremist unfit to serve as ambassador principally because he dares to be openminded and, like the president, considers alternatives to the two-state solution. Indeed, to an ideologue, being openminded is radical.
Shortly I will address whether Mr. Friedman and the Trump administration have abandoned the two-state solution, but this question is merely a distraction from the confirmation question for the simple reason that an ambassador does not make policy. An ambassador’s job is to be the emissary of the government and expressly to implement the president’s policies, even if he rejects them. The personal views of an ambassador are largely irrelevant.
What then determines an ambassador’s success? First, is he a good emissary of the president? Does he have his trust? Does he understand the president’s views intimately so that he is able to properly advocate them and indeed speak for the president? It is hard to think of an ambassador who would be a better emissary. David Friedman is not an anonymous donor whom the president has barely met and to whom a favor is due. Instead, they have been personal friends for years. David Friedman has had countless discussions with the president about Israel and indeed helped President Trump to form his views about Israel, so he knows those views better than anyone other than the president himself. No one could be a more faithful emissary. This will allow Israel to rely on what David Friedman says and avoid many errors in translation.
A second critical trait for an ambassador is to have a deep understanding of the country to which he is sent. Here again David Friedman is a home run. He has been to Israel scores of times. He speaks the language fluently. Finally, he is not only Jewish, but is steeped in Jewish learning. Even the complaints that he has been deeply involved with the Beit El settlement point to his deep understanding of Judea and Samaria. David Friedman is simply very knowledgeable about Israel and he has strong relationships with many Israeli officials. He will easily be accepted and understood by the host country. Again, contrast this to the many ambassadors who are selected by patronage. David Friedman was chosen for his expertise and connections.
An ambassador also must have the skill to implement U.S. policy, where necessary pressuring the host government to follow Washington’s lead and at other times smoothing over disputes. Here David Friedman’s lifelong connections with high-level Israeli officials will be invaluable. Some have complained he is a corporate bankruptcy attorney, not a career diplomat. Well, many ambassadors are not career diplomats, and anyone who questions his ability to conduct complex multi-party negotiations has never seen a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Finally, an ambassador is an advisor. He is the president’s eyes and ears on the ground and will advise the president accordingly. For the reasons explained above, David Friedman should be particularly effective at understanding Israel and relaying that understanding to the president. Only in this advisory role will his views on policy potentially have an impact. Does disagreeing with a nominee’s policy views and likely advice justify rejecting a nomination? What is lost here is that David Friedman has always advised and will always advise the president. The Senate does not confirm advisors. Rejecting the nomination will not change Friedman’s role as chief advisor on Israel.
This brings us to the promised discussion of the status of the two-state solution in the Trump administration. Recently some have been apoplectic claiming that President Trump made a radical departure from decades of U.S. policy by advocating a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is this extreme position that the president took? He said he would be happy with a deal that the parties “like the best.” He likes the deal “that both parties like.”
First, unless the Palestinians like a one-state solution (to be clear, with Israel as the one state), nothing has changed. It would not be a deal that both parties like. Yet in another sense everything has changed. Finally, we have a president who understands that it will be hard enough for the two parties to solve one of the most intractable problems of history without the United States injecting a third set of demands. As a mediator, the president’s role is to help the parties find a solution, not to impose one. The statement also represents a much deeper policy shift: we will begin to treat our allies like allies. For too long the United States has been unwilling to impose its will on its enemies, like Iran and Syria, but has been all too eager to make demands on allies like Israel. President Trump is reversing this inane policy. Finally, this signals to the Palestinians that they only will get a two-state solution if they finally come to the negotiating table and demonstrate that they want it. The United States will not force it to happen.
Where is David Friedman on this? I’ve personally heard him say the same thing. He believes that because Israel is our close ally, the United States should not impose a solution on it. Our job is to help Israel find the best path to peace, whether that is the two-state solution or something else. Whether or not you agree with the president, David Friedman is perfectly aligned with him and has all the skills and experience to be an exemplary ambassador. He must be confirmed immediately.
Dr. Philip J. Rosenthal is the co-founder and president of Fastcase, Inc. (www.fastcase.com) and was the 2016 Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party nominee for Congress in the N.Y. 10th, the district that includes Wall Street and Ground Zero. To read more of his reports — Go Here Now.
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