Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman spoke to Arutz Sheva – Israel National News about the current state of the US-Israel relationship in light of the recent pressure by the Biden Administration over the war against Hamas.

Ambassador David Friedman commented on the shift in the messages conveyed by the US government from what was felt in Israel in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas massacre, on October 8th and 9th, when the US seemed more supportive of Israel. “It is very unfortunate. Biden made reference to Israel engaging in indiscriminate bombing. This is very, very unfair and not true. I think he said that their conduct was over the top. He started pushing for a two-state solution. He's demanding a ceasefire."

"It's offensive, but the real damage is that it is making it harder for Israel to recover the hostages and win the war, because of the Hamas strategy. They know they can't defeat Israel militarily, so what they're saying is, ‘okay, we just committed this incredible act of barbarity. We're the darlings of the terrorist world. Now can we survive? We're not going to survive if Israel completes this war. The only way we can survive is if America stops Israel from completing the war. So right now they've got a few battalions left in Rafah and they've got their leadership still intact. So now they're watching Biden and they're saying to themselves ‘this guy's going to stop Israel, and if this guy stops Israel, we're going to survive. We don't have to pay that high a price to survive. The price of the hostages goes up and the risk of a bad outcome goes up. No one's paying attention to Biden more than Hamas and he's sending them exactly the wrong signals.”

On the shift between the initial hugs that Israel received, people in Israel were really moved and impressed by President Biden, by the hugs from the US, Blinkin coming here, saying ‘you guys are not alone,’ there was a feeling that the US is really with us, Ambassador Friedman says that he was not surprised, because “I never thought that Biden was really in charge of this. I think that at some level he does have an affection for the state of Israel, but that gives way entirely to his desperation to be reelected in 2024. So, as the politics start to move away from Israel and they always do, I mean every single battle that Israel's been involved with, when they're attack on the first day or two, they get some sympathy. It always changes, assuming that it would be the same thing here, I wasn't surprised. I am disappointed at how abrupt and how extensive the turning has been on Israel. In particular this idea of trying to create a distinction between Netanyahu and the people of Israel. Israel and America have very close relationships and I wouldn't say that there has been no meddling going on over the last 50 years, because it's such a close relationship. Everybody's interested in everybody else's politics, but this sets a new standard. This idea of going after the elected leader of the state of Israel in a war has really set a new low. It really undermines Israel. I don’t think it’s a policy or Biden’s style. It’s all political, because I think he's looking at this and saying, ‘I don't want to turn on Israel. I still have a lot of centrist Democrat voters, who like Israel, but most of them, especially on the left, don't like Netanyahu, so I can thread this needle by being really, really tough on Netanyahu, but by saying, ‘but of course I love the Jewish people and I love the State of Israel.’ I think that's a political calculation. I think he got together with his people and said, ‘all right, how do I work this thing out? How do I support Israel, but keep my voters? If it was just a political calculation under normal circumstances, politics is a very complicated and sometimes a dirty game. But during a war, when Bibi is trying to defend this country against the greatest threat it's had, maybe in its entire history, it’s really inappropriate.”

Addressing reports that the US is holding Israel ‘by the throat’ even in terms of ammunition, something that has never been heard of, Ambassador Friedman says that, “yesterday seven US senators proposed the bill that would end military assistance to Israel. There are circumstances where they didn't like the way the war was going. If they go into Rafah they would lose their access to weaponry. Again, Israel has to win this war. Israel, and only Israel, bears the consequences of losing the war and for a bunch of American Senators 6,000 miles away to try to handcuff Israel, at a time when they're confronting this evil, for political gain; it's only politics. It's only because this is an election year. It's terrible. Just understand that if this was 2023 or 2022 and we didn't have a presidential election coming, none of this would be happening. It's all to cater to a political base that the Democrats can't lose, in order to win in 2024.”

Turning to his support for former President Donald Trump, whose administration he served under as ambassador, Friedman said, “To put this support in the right context, because people ask me sometimes, ‘what do you think is the worst risk that Israel faces? Is it Hamas? Is it Hezbollah? Is it Iran? And I say the biggest risk to Israel geopolitically is that America ceases to lead the world. That's the biggest risk to Israel. So when I say Trump is better for Israel than Biden, in the first place it's because Trump is better for America than Biden, because Trump will lead America. Because Trump will keep America out of wars. Because Trump will project the strength and influence of the United States in a way that will end wars before they start and make people fear America before they engage in military adventurism. That's what makes Trump fundamentally better for Israel than Biden.”

Ambassador Friedman continues, “On this specific issue, his track record is like no other, whether it's Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Pompeo Doctrine, the Abraham Accords. I mean no one's done for Israel what Trump has done and he'll continue on that path, I believe.”

Some people on the right fear that Trump gave Israel so much and that during his second term he may want something as a payback. Ambassador Friedman is not sure, “What the payback would be. I mean I guess the fear would be that Israel would make peace with the Palestinians under terms that are unfavorable. He knows the enemy that Israel is confronting. He made it very clear that Israel should finish the job against Hamas. He understands Abu Mazen and those that follow him. He understands that 80% or more of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, not in Gaza, support Hamas and support the attacks of October 7th. He understands terrorism. He understands evil. He led the fight against ISIS, and we defeated ISIS. I don't think there's anything in his background or anything that he has said that would suggest anything but continued support for Israel.”

Trump is seen by some as having ‘problematic relationship’ with Netanyahu over the latter's call to congratulate bIden on his election victory in 2020. Ambassador Friedman says that, “I haven't had a conversation with him in months about Israel and in particular Israeli politicians. He's very quick to offer his views. I think in the aftermath of October 7th, he was stunned by the failures of Israel and they were massive. They were unprecedented and to date none of us have a good answer for how they happened and he recognized that just as I did, just as everybody did and I think he reacted to that. I think he felt great disappointment and shock that this could happen to Israel. Such a primitive attack against Israel could have such devastating consequences. So, I think it has caused him to have some doubts about the leadership, but at the end of the day whoever the democratically elected leader of Israel is, will be a friend to Trump. I don't have any doubt.”

Explaining what he believes is behind Biden’s pressure for a Palestinian state now, Ambassador Friedman stated that pressuring Israel to give a Palestinian state basically as a result of October 7th, “is exactly the wrong response. It's exactly the wrong outcome. It rewards terror. It says that terrorism can be excused and put into a context. It can be resolved through concessions and appeasement. This will be the template for terrorists around the world, terrorizing their particular communities and expecting to be rewarded for it. So it is exactly the wrong message. In particular in Israel it's going to be undoubtedly an existential threat to the state, because again, it's a state of people. It's not a hypothetical state. It's a state of people and these people have already voted and 80% of them or more are saying ‘we support the October 7th attacks. How do you sit side by side with a terrorist state that is so close to Israel's major population centers. Israel will never agree to it and we saw, to their credit, that the Knesset took this up and voted 90 something to 10, to reject the unilateral imposition of a state.”

Against the criticism of many that Netanyahu is currently refusing to talk ‘about the day after,’ or ‘what he wants to happen in the Gaza Strip, in Judea and Samaria,’ for example, Ambassador Friedman says that, “the day after, and the day after that, is all still about security and ensuring that October 7th doesn't happen again. I mean, if people want to talk about some Jeffersonian reconstruction of a democratic institution, we're so far from that. I mean it would be silly to discuss it and frankly there would be so little political consensus on that, you're just driving wedges into the unity that's been reestablished after this past summer. So, it doesn't make any sense to talk about it now. It makes sense to secure the territory and then start thinking about it. That to me is the day after. Any more pressure on Israel to go beyond that is foolish.”

On Ambassador Friedman’s new approach that he is proposing for Judea and Samaria, which some say connects to what Mike Pompeo presented here in Israel, and which he presented in Nashville, Tennessee, he says, “I proposed it, because when Biden proposed the two-state solution, everyone was saying that if not this, you have to have some alternative. So I felt the need to do it then in Nashville, because it was an organization of 5,000 Christian broadcasters and they would get the message out to a very broad audience. Before I talk about the specifics, I think that what's happening now is that, for the first time maybe in my lifetime, the convergence of theology, geopolitics and national security, is leading us to the same place. The theology has always been there. The theology among those who believe in the land of Israel is that God gave this land to the Jewish people. He promised it to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to the prophets. Places like Shilo and Beit El and Hevron, these are places that are deeply intertwined into the Jewish DNA of our people, in our history. So, theologically, we should keep the land. But now for the first time, you look at the politics. Well we know now that a two-state solution doesn't work. We know it because we gave it a try in Gaza. Gaza was effectively a Palestinian state. We gave them a lot of money, not a single Jew on the ground, not a single soldier on the ground and yet what did they do with all the money? They build terror tunnels and rockets So we know that a Palestinian state fails. So the politics now tells us we have to come up with something else and the reality is that if you look all around the region, the only potential for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to have more prosperity and more dignity is to somehow be able to cooperate and coexist with Israel, which is the only successful country in the region. Its GDP per capita is more than ten times everybody else's. Now the national security is the reality that Israel cannot leave the Palestinians to their own devices. They left Gaza to its own devices and under our noses they created the greatest homecourt advantage in the world, in terms of ground combat. There's no other place where you could attack anywhere in the world, where you would confront the type of terror tunnels, this 350-mile spiderweb of terror tunnels that you have in Gaza. So we now know that from a national security perspective Israel must be on the ground. So for Israel to be on the ground in Judea and Samaria is the only way to keep the entire area peaceful, not just for the Israelis, but for whatever number of Palestinians, and it's not a small number, want to live in peace with Israel and are themselves being terrorized by Fatah, and by Hamas and by Islamic Jihad.”

Ambassador Friedman continues, “We’re talking about full sovereignty. If you listen to those ugly demonstrations all around the world where people say ‘from the river to the sea Palestine will be free,’ so they're half right. What I would say is ‘from the river to the sea Israel will be free,’ I think that really is the right approach. Again I say this with a desire to create a win-win circumstance. This isn't a situation where Israel's going to grab all the land and the Palestinians should just pound sand, or continue to live sub-optimal lives. It’s that with that sovereignty comes a responsibility. It's an expensive responsibility and to me the way to move this forward is to expand the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accord countries were concerned about the quality of life of the Palestinians. We need to explain to them that it's not going to get better by creating a Palestinian state; it's going to get worse. It will be better if Israel has sovereignty over the region and they can help absorb healthcare and schooling into their infrastructure. Israel has to make sure that the schooling and education is consistent with the values of coexistence. That is the sovereignty. It's a win for everybody. It's not something where you take the parts that you want and you just leave the rest and leave people to their own devices.”

This situation would result in the Palestinians having a right to vote for the Knesset, which Ambassador Friedman explains as, “you have Israel just coming out, of God willing, this massive military threat to its existence. You're not going to swap a military threat for a demographic threat, where it makes it even easier, just by voting for Israel to no longer be a Jewish state. That can't work, but at the same token, I look at Puerto Rico as an example, because Puerto Rico is the territory of the US. They don't vote in our national elections. They don't get any electoral votes. When I was a kid, the biggest terror group in the US was called the FALN. There were the Puerto Rican nationalists who engaged in terrorism to create Puerto Rican independence. They're not around anymore. Puerto Rico lives happily within its construct as being a territory of the US. They vote in local elections, but they don’t vote in the national election. Why? Because the benefits they get from their association with the US exceed whatever detriments of not voting. The best example is there are a lot of hurricanes in Puerto Rico and when there's a hurricane, the US comes and helps. It’s a win-win. In the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians they are not going to vote in the national elections of the state of Israel, but Israel will commit itself to helping them achieve the benefits of living in a first world country.”

A situation like this exists already in Jerusalem, where Israel is taking care of Palestinians who are not really citizens, and Ambassador Friedman says that, “that's true sovereignty. In Jerusalem they have become permanent residents. My vision would be that they would be permanent residents in Jenin and Ramallah as well, meaning there’s not going to be a risk of them being thrown out of their country. They could get travel documents that would enable them to leave. All subject to the overriding security protocols, but that is what it means to be a sovereign.”

Ambassador Friedman continues to explain that, “This is all part of the big picture of the Abraham Accords, which concern broadening Israel's relationship with the Arab world. It is important to these countries that they can say in good conscience that they did not abandon the Palestinians. So the next step is to convince the Arab world that you're not abandoning the Palestinians by not giving them a state. If anything, given the history of the Palestinians, who have never successfully self-governed, whose leadership has been, at best, corrupt and giving them their own state is not going to help the Palestinian people, enabling them to live side by side with Israel in peace, working on a common economy, working on common goals. That is how you help the Palestinians and that's where the Gulf countries should be investing.”

Ambassador Friedman concludes the interview by remembering October 7th, “it was very difficult for me. I had some of my grandchildren with me and we were going in and out of shelters and my oldest granddaughter who's about 13 said to me ‘why are people trying to kill us, they don't even know us? What is it about them that are trying to kill us?’ I just thought back and said ‘I'm not from the generation of the Holocaust. My parents’ generation is the generation of the Holocaust. I thought we were past this already and here I am explaining to my granddaughter that there are people who just want to kill Jews, because they are Jews. So that was depressing and it was hard for me to watch. As I learned more about the level of barbarity that took place, I was so sad and angry at the same time. Since then what I would say is this. The people of Israel are truly the greatest people in the world. They really are. I mean what they've done to take care of each other, to rebuild people's lives, to look after the wounded, to comfort the grieving. People have just stopped everything to help each other and it's extraordinary. It makes me so proud to be Jewish, that this is how we've reacted to it. We just have to finish the job. We have to win this war decisively, not just because we want to eradicate Hamas, but because we need to send a message to the world that Jewish blood is not cheap, and if this ever happens again, the response will be overwhelming again.”

If Trump goes back into the White House and following his experience of October 7th, Ambassador Friedman believes that, “There is no question that he would go back into public activity. I think post October 7th my desire to serve is far greater than it was before. I haven't spoken about this with the President. This is his decision and he tends to make these decisions much closer to inauguration day, than just during a campaign. But, if given that opportunity, it would be my honor to do whatever I could do to help. I just want to help. I don't have anything specific in mind. Obviously, I have a track record in one particular job, but I just want to be in a position to help as best I can.”