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Trump Selects Adviser David Friedman As Ambassador To Israel

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate his longtime confidant David Friedman to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. As NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem, it's a controversial choice.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: David Friedman is a real estate and bankruptcy lawyer. He's been close to Trump for 15 years. During the election campaign, Friedman advised Trump on Israel affairs. Friedman's been a commentator for Arutz Sheva, a news site affiliated with the West Bank settlement movement. Here's what he told the news site in May about Donald Trump's views on restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

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DAVID FRIEDMAN: If Israel wants to pursue a peace process, he's happy to help. But he's not going to pressure Israel into things that they don't want to do.

ESTRIN: The U.S. has long supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, establishing a Palestinian state on land Israel captured in 1967. The U.S. has repeatedly rejected Israeli settlement construction on that land. Trump's pick for ambassador has a completely different stance.

Friedman has called the two-state approach an illusion. He serves as the president of an organization in the U.S. that fundraises for a West Bank settlement. In his May interview to the settler-affiliated news site, he said Trump supports settlements.

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FRIEDMAN: His view is that Israel should continue to build settlements. Certainly, nothing has been undertaken by the Palestinians to cause Israel to second-guess that view.

ESTRIN: Here's what else Friedman has said. He's accused President Obama of blatant anti-Semitism after the White House took a tough stance against Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer who is Jewish and who opposed the Iranian nuclear deal. He's taken aim at the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, calling its American Jewish supporters far worse than kapos, Jewish concentration camp prisoners who helped the Nazis. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval says he doesn't give much weight to Friedman's past statements.

ZALMAN SHOVAL: The incoming administration has not yet made up its policy with regards to many things but certainly with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, any statement made at this stage is really irrelevant. The ambassador will have to act with regards to the policy which President Trump will set.

ESTRIN: An official with the Israeli Prime Minister's Office told NPR Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased with David Friedman's appointment and looks forward to working closely with him. Friedman says he looks forward to serving as ambassador from a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. And that's a whole other delicate matter - Israel and the Palestinians have competing claims to Jerusalem. No country has its embassy in the city to avoid taking sides in the dispute. Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says Friedman as ambassador presiding from a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem would be a provocation.

HANAN ASHRAWI: The U.S. is on a direct collision course with the region and with the Arab and Islamic world as well as with people of good conscience all over the world.

ESTRIN: David Friedman's appointment still needs Senate confirmation. Liberal Jewish groups say they'll fight it. J Street, the group whose supporters Friedman called Nazi kapos, is calling Friedman's nomination reckless.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.