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US Senate approves settlement backer as Israel ambassador

Pro-Israeli settlements, David Friedman has been described as a 'divisive' figure[Getty]

Date of publication: 24 March, 2017

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An anti-Palestinian, pro-settlement figure has been approved to become the US' envoy to Israel on Thursday, despite his history of undiplomatic declarations.
The US Senate approved the appointment of a supporter of Israeli settlement building, as Washington's ambassador to Israel on Thursday.

President Donald Trump's nomination of 58-year-old David Friedman - his former bankruptcy lawyer - raised concerns about America's commitment to a two-state Middle East peace deal, due to Friedman's history of undiplomatic declarations.

But the Senate approved him by a margin of 52 to 46 after his apology to lawmakers last month for his past harsh language at a confirmation hearing.

Two of the chamber's 52 Republicans did not vote and two of the 48 Democrats voted against their camp to approve Friedman.

Trump's administration has been slow to appoint new ambassadors to replace those who stepped down at the end of former president Barack Obama's term, and more than 70 posts lie open.

But the Israel job was seen as a key bellwether of the new administration's attitude to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Friedman's nomination was welcomed by the Israeli right.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Twitter that Friedman "will be warmly welcomed as President Trump's representative and as a close friend of Israel."

Prior to becoming the ambassadorial nominee, Friedman was known as a vocal supporter of Israeli causes, including the building of settlements on Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

He clashed with American Jewish progressive groups, notably dubbing liberals "worse than kapos," a reference to Jewish collaborators who worked as guards in Nazi prison camps.

And he is widely seen as hostile to the two-state solution - the vision of an end to the conflict in which Israel and a future Palestine live side-by-side within agreed borders.

Trump's administration insists it might support this idea if Israel comes to a deal, but has clearly softened the Obama administration's tough criticism of Israeli settlements.

Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein voted against Friedman and dubbed him "too divisive to serve in one of our nation's most sensitive diplomatic positions."

And liberal Jewish lobby group J Street said it was "heartened" that the level of opposition to Friedman's confirmation showed that his views were outside the US mainstream.

But the Republican Jewish Coalition welcomed the vote, arguing "there is no question that the relationship between the US and Israel will grow stronger."

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