Trump To Nominate Bankruptcy Attorney As U.S. Ambassador To Israel

Dec 16, 2016
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Donald Trump will take the oath of office five weeks from today. He has almost completely filled out his Cabinet, hired more White House staff. His latest choice, though, is grabbing headlines. The role of ambassador to Israel, he has chosen David Friedman. And to find out more about him, let's talk to NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen who's in the studio.

Michele, good morning.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So David Friedman, a bankruptcy attorney - very little diplomatic experience, sounds like. What else do we know?

KELEMEN: Well, no diplomatic experience at all really.

GREENE: OK.

KELEMEN: I mean, the main thing is that seems to have qualified him to get picked is a very close relationship with Donald Trump. Trump called him a trusted adviser on Israel in his statement. He highlighted the fact that this is someone who knows a lot about Israel's history, had his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall, speaks Hebrew. So these are the things that Donald Trump himself was highlighting about this pick.

And what we know about his views, David Friedman's views, is that he doesn't think settlement-building in Palestinian areas is a obstacle to peace. In fact, he has gone on record really opposing the idea of a two-state solution.

GREENE: The Obama administration, in support of a two-state solution, has always given the Israeli government trouble when it comes to settlements. This would be a very big break.

KELEMEN: That's - it's a very big break. And the other big break from current U.S. policy is he wants to move the embassy, which is currently in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem. Presidential candidates have made that promise in the past but have never followed through because of the sensitivity of that issue.

GREENE: You know, I spoke about that very thing with a former head of Mossad, the Israeli security service. His name is Efraim Halevy. We talked to him last month. And I was asking him if, based on the intelligence, if there would be violence and reaction to those moves. And here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

EFRAIM HALEVY: Violence is violence is violence. Violence could be a big outburst of activity which would, shall we say, plunge the whole area into a bloodbath. But I don't think this would happen. But even, should we say, controlled violence, like the violence we've had in the last couple of years with knives of the young children and so forth - violence is something, once it breaks out, you cannot even imagine how far it will go and how wide it will spread.

GREENE: I suppose that speaks to how sensitive a position this is. And if Donald Trump has someone who is - takes a hard-line view, the impact on the region could be unpredictable.

KELEMEN: And that's something that certainly the intelligence community here in the United States - and also, I know for a fact, the State Department has drawn up papers about this, whether or not the Trump administration is looking into that or reading those papers is a different story. I mean, Jerusalem is considered a final-status issue. It's one of the key issues that Israelis and Palestinians have to decide to negotiate before there's this idea of a two-state solution. They both claim Jerusalem as their capital.

GREENE: And Michele, I mean - when ambassadors are chosen, oftentimes countries that are not that consequential, presidents might send, you know, even a big-time fundraiser. But to places like Russia, to places like Israel, to places like China, they usually send people with a long resume of diplomatic experience. Right?

KELEMEN: That's true. But in this case, there's one thing that's going for David Friedman, and that is that he has the President-elect Trump's ear. He's a very close adviser to him. But he may also face a very tough confirmation fight. We're already hearing a lot of concern from liberal-leaning Jewish groups about that.

GREENE: OK. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.