Erekat Launches Personal Attack Against Friedman

WASHINGTON Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed David Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump’s selection for Ambassador to Israel, in a conference call organized by the Wilson Center on Monday.

“David Friedman is a very well known extreme right wing supporter of settlers, supporter of annexation of East Jerusalem… This is a disaster,” the veteran Palestinian official said. Erekat assailed Friedman for refusing to use the term “West Bank” and instead refer to the territories conquered by Israel in the 1967 war as “Judea and Samaria.”

Erekat’s personal attack against Friedman is a departure from his statements on Friday trying to focus only on policy. “Donald Trump’s announcement of his cabinet… is his business,” the chief negotiator emphasized at a press conference in Bethlehem.

But, by Monday, Erekat appeared to change his tone. “With such a move by Mr. Trump, he says that there is no longer a two-state solution when he sends an ambassador like David Friedman to the region… For God’s sake, what is going on?”

Last week, Erekat and a senior Palestinian delegation came to Washington and met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about a proposed UN Security Council resolution on settlements. Haaretz reported on December 10 that the Palestinian delegation was supposed to meet with Trump transition officials during their time in the American capital.

Jewish Insider asked Erekat about the outcome of these meetings, but the chief Palestinian negotiator clarified, “We did not meet with any of the Trump people. I don’t know any of them as a matter of fact. We tried, but we did not get the chance to meet with any of them.” It appears from Erekat’s answer that Trump officials turned down the Palestinian delegation’s request for a meeting.

David Friedman did not immediately respond to Jewish Insider’s request for comment about Erekat’s accusations.

Friedman, 57, served as Trump’s bankruptcy attorney and Israel advisor throughout the campaign. Both Friedman and Trump have proposed moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, earning praise by hawkish members of the Israeli government including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud).

The Palestinian leadership has wrestled since the election results with the proper response to Trump’s hardline policies. The Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said on November 11 that if Trump moved the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, the Palestinians would “make life miserable” for America at the UN. “If they do that nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves and we have a lot of weapons in the UN.

However, Al-Monitor’s Shlomi Eldar reported on November 28 that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reprimanded Mansour for his threat against the real-estate mogul turned commander in chief. At the same time, Abbas has yet to issue any public remarks criticizing Trump.

Erekat also issued a threat during the call. “I am still the chief negotiator for the Palestinians. If the (US) Embassy moved to Jerusalem, I will not be the negotiator anymore,” he added. Nonetheless, Erekat has repeatedly promised to leave his post during his decades of service but still kept his position.

On the other hand, Aaron David Miller Vice President at the Wilson Center and longtime US Middle East negotiator cautioned about overemphasizing the role that Friedman may play. For many years US Presidents have established discrete channels with Israeli leaders that do not involve the Ambassador, Miller noted.

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