The US Senate has narrowly confirmed US President Donald Trump's pick for Israel ambassador. David Friedman is a strong proponent of Israeli settlements and favors moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
True to his contentious reputation, David Friedman was only narrowly approved by the US Senate on Thursday as the country's new ambassador to Israel.
The confirmation saw senators vote almost exclusively along party lines, with only two democrats, Senators Robert Menendez and Joe Manchin, siding with Republicans in approving Friedman's nomination.
The final vote was 52 to 46, an usually close result, as for decades Democrats and Republicans have without objection approved the president's nominee for Israel ambassador, either through unanimous consent or voice votes.
However, Friedman is not like other US envoys. A former bankruptcy lawyer and long-time friend of US President Donald Trump, the ambassadorship will be Friedman's first ever diplomatic role. Nevertheless, his politics are well known and align firmly with the Israeli right.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the appointment on Twitter, saying that Friedman "will be warmly welcomed as President Trump's representative and as a close friend of Israel."
US Democrats voiced their concerns that Friedman's hard line approach could risk the security situation in an already-violated region.
Shortly before the vote, Democratic senator Brian Schatz said: "Our ambassador should not be the kind of person who uses language to fuel violence, hate, instability."
Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, who voted against Friedman, dubbed him "too divisive to serve in one of our nation's most sensitive diplomatic positions."
A shift in US Middle East policy
The Israeli ambassadorship is regarded as one of the most important US envoy roles and as a bellwether for the new administration's attitude towards the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Trump administration's approach so far marks a radical departure from former President Barack Obama's icy relations with the Israeli premier.
Friedman is a vocal proponent of Israel's settlement program, having even invested in settlements built on land that is claimed by Palestinians.
Even more contentious is his desire to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move supported by Trump.
While Israel has classed Jerusalem as its capital city since 1950, it has not been formally recognized as such by the international community, who continue maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem during the six-day war of 1967 and has claimed it ever since. That land grab has however not been recognized by the international community including - until now at least - the US.
In the event of a two-state solution, Palestinian authorities have made clear that they want East Jerusalem to serve as the capital of their own separate state. Trump's decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem is therefore almost certain to provoke objections from the Arab world and Muslims further afield.
However, during a joint press conference with Netanyahu at the White House last month, Trump appeared to pivot from US's commitment to a two-state solution. "I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like," Trump said. "I'm very happy with the one that both parties like."
Friedman's appointment comes just in time for next week's annual US conference sponsored by the powerful pro-Israeli lobby, AIPAC.
dm/jr (Reuters, AFP)\]