'Trump, Netanyahu have phenomonal relationship'

Ambassador says Trump admin. dead set on moving embassy to Jerusalem: 'A matter of when, not if,' settlements no longer divide Israel-US.

David Rosenberg,

Trump and Netanyahu, today
Trump and Netanyahu, today
Hadas Parush / Flash 90

President Donald Trump has made achieving a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority “a very high priority”, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the Jerusalem Post, but added that the Trump White House is only interested in a deal which is embraced by both sides.

“If we conclude that there’s an opportunity here that really works well for both sides, I think he will jump into this to help it get done,” Friedman said. “But we’re not there yet, and we’re still working with the parameters. He is, I think, very much committed to seeing this done.”

Friedman emphasized that contrary to some leaders in Europe and the previous administration, the Trump White House is not interested in imposing a final status agreement on Israel, saying any deal would have to be “a win-win for Israel and the Palestinians.”

“If it’s not good for both, it’s not going to get done, so we’re trying to find ways to make sure that each side looks at the opportunity versus the present and concludes that the opportunity is better than the present.”

The White House’s less confrontational approach towards Israel, Friedman argued, had enabled Trump and Netanyahu to form a “phenomenal” relationship – a notable development considering the much-publicized coolness, if not downright hostility, between Netanyahu and President Obama.

“I think they have a lot in common. I think they’re both decisive leaders,” Friedman said. “I think they’re both serving as the leaders of countries that are politically divided and trying to find ways to maintain functioning governments, but the main thing I would say is the chemistry.”

“The chemistry is just excellent. It’s fun to be with them. It’s not a formal meeting. They’re not on edge. They’re not sitting back in their chairs in a formal way. They’re kind of talking like a couple of friends, and it’s fun to be in the room with them, because the conversations are really pleasant. They’re funny. They’re cordial.”

Specific policy differences between the Obama and Trump administrations, Friedman claimed, have also helped foster the kind of amicable relations between Jerusalem and the White House which were rarely seen prior to the January 20th inauguration.

Whereas the Obama administration seemed fixated on the issue of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, viewing them as a key barrier to regional peace, President Trump “just doesn’t view settlements the way the Obama administration did.”

Turning to the issue of the American Embassy in Israel, which is still located in Tel Aviv despite Trump’s campaign promise to move it to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, Friedman remained confident the president would follow through on his pledge.

The move, Friedman said, was a matter of “when” rather than “if”, adding that administration officials were discussing the matter on a regular basis. “It’s something we think about all the time.”

Speaking candidly about the Obama White House, Friedman expressed outrage both with President Obama’s support for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and the apparent equivalency Obama administration officials drew between Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria on the one hand, and Arab terror attacks against Jews on the other.

“I don’t want to speak for the president, although he has been on the record on this; I’ll speak for myself” Friedman said regarding the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

“I thought it was an absolute betrayal of Israel by the Obama administration, as sharp a betrayal as any president I think has ever inflicted upon Israel. Of course, in the aftermath of that, the president wanted to signal a change, and I think that was well within his thinking when he appointed me to be the ambassador.”

“I understand that 'settlements' are an issue, and I don’t have the slightest problem with people wanting to discuss settlements in the context of peace negotiations, but settlements and terrorism do not belong in the same sentence. Not the same paragraph, not the same report, because the killing of innocent life, of innocent civilian life, is so much more abhorrent and repugnant and inconsistent with a peace process than the building of apartments.”