Ambassador David Friedman
Ambassador David FriedmanEsti Desiubov/TPS

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman spoke on Thursday evening at the Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israel Relations in Jerusalem.

Discussing the previous American administration, Friedman said that when former President Barack Obama ended his term in 2016, his administration "left a parting gift; I would say partying betrayal to the State of Israel. UN Resolution 2234, which deemed all of Judea and Samaria, all of Jerusalem… all of it was deemed to be illegally occupied territory.”

“That resolution was a lie. I wish there was a better word, but there really isn't," he added.

Friedman praised US President Donald Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, saying that an Israeli resolution to name a new community in the Golan after Trump was a "fitting tribute."

He added he had been privileged to be invited to an open-air cabinet meeting that took place on the Golan Heights, whose only agenda item was to authorize "Trump Heights."

The American ambassador said that the resolution, which passed unanimously, marked the first time since 1949, when Harry Truman was so honored, that Israel had named any community after a sitting US President.

Friedman said that in the aftermath of President Trump’s proclamation of March 21, 2019, many rose to applaud while words of criticism emanated from the usual corners. But as the noise dissipated and the sun rose the next day, two new realities were beyond dispute: America’s stature in the world had risen and the security of its ally Israel had been enhanced.

Now, he said, he was looking back at some of the lessons he had learned.

"Foreign policy must evolve with changed circumstances. Many who criticized the President’s decision noted that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, had negotiated with [then-Syrian President] Hafez Assad in 1994 to return portions of the Golan in exchange for peace and they urged that this failed process remain open. But almost nothing about the circumstances that existed then are relevant today. In particular, the Syrian civil war, in which Syria has murdered or displaced more than 1 million of its own people and became a client-state of Iran, is a seminal event that cannot be ignored.”

“By affirming Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Trump has sent a clear and moral message to the world that Syria has forfeited any legitimate claim to the Golan Heights," Friedman said.

Second, Friedman continued, "Brains without courage make for a weak foreign policy. All presidents are smart. If they weren’t, they never would have attained their lofty positions."

The ambassador said that past US presidents all grasped the need for Israel to retain sovereignty over the Golan. But only President Trump had the courage to give "practical effect to this undeniable truth."

"Courage matters," he said, adding, "Right makes might. Some have criticized the president’s decision as one of 'might makes right' – a euphemism for the erroneous proposition that a nation as strong as the United States can pursue a policy devoid of any moral foundation. Here, exactly the opposite is true: The United States is stronger because it has acted justly. The United States has sided with Israel, a nation that at great risk opened its border every night to provide emergency healthcare to Syria’s ill and wounded, and against the Syrian regime which has inflicted unspeakable trauma upon its own people."

A fourth lesson Friedman said he has learned is that not every foreign policy decision requires a quid pro quo.

"Some suggest that America 'should have gotten something from Israel' in exchange for its recognition of the Golan. But the strength of the American decision was precisely in the fact that it was principled and grounded in law and morals, thereby untarnished by the daily negotiations common to international relations," he said.

Fifth and last is the lesson "Don’t start a war that you can’t afford to lose."

Syria attacked Israel in 1967 and then again in 1973, and Israel gained control of the Golan through its legitimate response to Syrian attacks aimed at Israel’s destruction, Friedman said.

"Since then, Syria has continued to fail to be a partner for peace. By affirming Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Trump has afforded Israel the only secure and recognized boundary that could exist under these circumstances," he added.

The ambassador concluded his speech by saying that history would "reflect kindly upon President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Let’s hope that the lessons learned from this outstanding decision will influence the international foreign policy establishment to pursue and create a more just, humane and peaceful world."