Controversial new US ambassador arrives in Israel

New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman

Controversial new US ambassador to Israel David Friedman arrived in the country on Monday to take up his post, days ahead of a visit by US President Donald Trump.

The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed the arrival of Friedman, who has been a strong supporter of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Friedman is due to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday.

The Jewish-American bankruptcy lawyer has expressed scepticism over the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the basis of years of US peace efforts.

He has also advocated breaking with decades of precedent and moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, a prospect deeply alarming to Palestinians.

Trump vowed to move the embassy to Jerusalem during his campaign, but has since backed away, saying the move was still being looked at.

Trump is expected to visit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on May 22 and 23.

Speaking at a pre-election rally in October in support of Trump on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, Friedman said the now US president would fire US State Department “lifers” who refused to move the embassy.

He has also clashed with American Jewish progressive groups, notably dubbing liberals “worse than kapos”, a reference to Jewish collaborators who worked as guards in Nazi concentration camps.

His appointment comes as Trump seeks ways to restart moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and questions have been raised over whether Friedman will be able to put his personal views aside.

– Trump’s mixed signals –

Trump himself has sent mixed signals over how he will approach the decades-old conflict.

He cast uncertainty over years of international efforts to foster a two-state solution when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February.

At that meeting, he said he would support a single state if it led to peace, delighting Israeli right-wingers who want to see their country annex most of the occupied West Bank.

At the same time, he urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in the West Bank, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world.

He also held face-to-face talks in Washington with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas earlier this month, confidently predicting that a peace agreement was within grasp, brushing aside the complexities of a conflict that has bedevilled successive US leaders.

“We will get it done,” Trump said, flaunting what he has described as his deal-making prowess.

“It is something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

One of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, held wide-ranging talks with both Israelis and Palestinians during a visit in March.

Friedman’s support for settlements has drawn particular attention.

Trump, the parents of his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Friedman have all reportedly contributed financially to Beit El settlement, near the Palestinian political capital Ramallah.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Friedman has been president of a group called American Friends of Beit El Institutions.

It said the group raises about $2 million a year for Beit El. Punch

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