Israeli Lawmakers, Settlers Praise Trump's Nominee for Envoy

David Friedman (L) and Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overeas Israel (R) give media interviews in Jerusalem during an election campaign event on Oct. 26. ENLARGE
David Friedman (L) and Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overeas Israel (R) give media interviews in Jerusalem during an election campaign event on Oct. 26. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

TEL AVIV—Jewish settlers and conservative Israeli lawmakers on Friday welcomed the nomination of pro-settlement lawyer David Friedman as the incoming Trump administration’s new envoy to Israel, an appointment likely to prove as controversial here as in the U.S.

The president-elect said Thursday he would name Mr. Friedman, his longtime friend and lawyer, as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Friedman has indicated the U.S. should abandon its decadeslong policy of establishing a Palestinian state and move America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a sharp departure from longstanding U.S. policy.

“Good luck to David Friedman, the appointed U.S. ambassador, a great friend of Israel,” tweeted Naftali Bennett, the pro-settler leader of the conservative Jewish Home party and one of Israel’s most ardent opponents of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An Israeli lawmaker who isn’t a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition said Mr. Friedman’s nomination represented a sea change in U.S. policy toward Israel. “It takes the U.S. all the way to the right,” the lawmaker said.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman initially declined to comment on the nomination, saying Israel was unlikely to react officially to the appointment until Mr. Trump takes office in January.

But later Friday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said she welcomed the nomination, noting that Mr. Friedman’s positions reflected “the desire to strengthen the standing of Israel’s capital Jerusalem at this time and to underscore that the settlements have never been the true problem in the area.”

While Mr. Friedman’s nomination must be approved by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the full Senate, for some Israelis the outlook for U.S. policy toward Israel already appeared bleak.

“This is a bad sign for the upcoming administration,” said Hagit Ofran, spokeswoman for Peace Now, a nongovernmental organization founded in Israel nearly 40 years ago to promote the two-state solution. “We hope that the Americans won’t abandon us.”

Other liberal-leaning Jewish groups in Israel and the U.S. were also lining up against Mr. Friedman’s nomination. J Street said it “vehemently opposed” the nomination, cautioning that he lacked the requisite diplomatic or policy credentials.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents the Palestinians internationally, including negotiations with Israel, declined to officially comment.

A senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, however, that, Mr. Friedman would be judged on his actions, not past statements.

“All what we want is that the new administration and president to act according to international law,” the official said. “We need to preserve the two state solution.”

That view was likely to be echoed elsewhere in the Arab world, according to Bilal Saab, director of the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

“There will be neither outrage or jubilation in Arab capitals,” Mr. Saab said. “They will judge this administration on the basis of its actions.”

Mr. Friedman, a founding partner of the New York-based law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, worked previously worked with President-elect Trump in connection with his investments in Atlantic City casinos. He has been outspoken in his criticism of the Obama administration and liberal U.S. Jewish organizations for their policies toward Israel.

In a column in May on the news website IsraelNationalNews.com, he likened members of the American pro-peace lobbying group J Street to “kapos,” Jews who were assigned to supervise others Jews in Nazi concentration camps in World War II.

In the same column, Mr. Friedman also called Mr. Obama an anti-Semite for what he described as the U.S. president’s failure to more vigorously condemn Palestinian violence against Israelis.

The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians officially support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But U.S.-brokered talks to resolve so-called final-status issues—security, borders, refugees, mutual recognition, the status of Jerusalem—have repeatedly collapsed, particularly over construction of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Palestinian-Israeli violence.

“There won’t be a Palestinian state,” said Baruch Gordon, director of development for institutions in Beit El, a settlement in the West Bank to which Mr. Friedman donates money.

“We’re going to see a new approach, a new understanding and new type of dialogue,” said Oded Revivi, chief foreign representative for the Yesha Council, which represents 430,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Mr. Revivi met with Mr. Friedman earlier this month.

Since his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem 45 year ago, Mr. Friedman has been a frequent visitor to Israel. He is president of Beit El Institutions, an organization involved in educational activities in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit El and the news organization IsraelNationalNews.com, Mr. Gordon said.

From 2010 through 2014, the nonprofit American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center, which operates under the umbrella of Beit El Institutions, raised nearly $ 10 million in gifts and contributions for the settlement, according to U.S. tax filings posted on Guidestar.org. The family foundation of the president-elect’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also has given money to the settlement.

A critical issue in Mr. Friedman’s Senate confirmation hearings is likely to be Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, said earlier this week that the president-elect considers the move a “very big priority.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It later annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan, steps that haven’t been internationally recognized.

Palestinians claim the West Bank as a future Palestinian state, with part of Jerusalem as its capital.

Shifting the embassy’s location would likely spark condemnation in Europe and among U.S. allies in the Middle East, where such a proposal has been criticized for pre-empting negotiations on all final-status issues.

Write to Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com

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