Skip to main content

PLO chief warns of chaos and extremism if US moves embassy to Jerusalem

Palestine Liberation Organisation's secretary general says Trump's ambassador to Israel will destroy peace process
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (AFP)

A senior Palestinian official warned US President-elect Donald Trump on Friday that moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would destroy prospects of peace with Israel and push the region into turmoil.

The remarks by the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Saeb Erekat, came as Israeli officials praised Trump's decision to nominate hardliner David Friedman as envoy to Israel.

The Palestinians regard east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. 

Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv before a final agreement on the conflict "will be the destruction of the peace process," Erekat told journalists.

He also warned of a change in the "longstanding position" of the US that considers "the settlements as illegal".

"I look David Friedman and Trump in the eye and tell them - if you were to take these steps of moving the embassy and annexing settlements in the West Bank, you are sending this region down the path of something that I call chaos, lawlessness and extremism," he said.

Friedman, a bankruptcy attorney, supports settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, characterised by successive US administrations as an "obstacle to peace" with the Palestinians.

In a Trump transition team statement on Thursday announcing his appointment, Friedman said he wanted to work for peace and looked forward to "doing this from the US embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem".

Widespread condemnation

Liberal Jewish-American groups have raised objections over his previously stated positions, including support for Jewish settlement building and advocacy of Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

"If he is confirmed, it will be very hard for Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, Europeans and others not to conclude ... that the United States is no longer on board with a two-state solution," said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership who is now at the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington.

The Palestinians, however, were not entirely convinced that Trump's administration would indeed live up to its election promise of moving the embassy and allow its ally Israel to move forward with settlement activity.   

Pushed on whether he thought Trump would indeed move the embassy and allow the annexation of West Bank settlements, Erekat said: "I don't think they will do it. The United States at the end of the day is a country of institutions, and they are guided by their national interests."

'Great friend of Israel'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his right-wing government welcomed Friedman's nomination on Friday.

An unidentified source in Netanyahu's office said the premier was "pleased" with the appointment.

"He knows David Friedman has the full confidence of President-elect Trump and looks forward to working closely with him," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the appointment "good news for Israel," while Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home said that Friedman was "a great friend of Israel".

The left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz was less welcoming.

"By Israeli standards, Donald Trump's designated ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is an extreme right-winger," it commented. "He makes Benjamin Netanyahu seem like a left-wing defeatist."

The United States and most UN member states do not recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and the city's status is one of the thorniest issues of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967 and subsequently annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Yesha council, which represents the more than 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, praised the new ambassador-designate.

"Friedman has a deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judaea and Samaria," the group's foreign affairs envoy, Oded Revivi, said in a statement on Friday, using a biblical name for the West Bank.

"His knowledge and wisdom of the issues will strengthen the bridge between our great nations."

Trump may not formally abandon US support for an eventual "two-state solution," but Washington will likely not press its Israeli ally to make difficult concessions to revive the moribund peace process.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller made clear on Friday that Friedman has the president-elect's full support and that the plan to move the embassy will stand.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.