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US Senate committee confirms Trump's pro-settler pick for Israel ambassador

The lawyer, with no diplomatic experience, has said that calls for settlers to leave the occupied West Bank amount to 'ethnic cleansing'
Friedman at his nomination hearing in February. (Reuters)

David Friedman, a hardline supporter of Israeli settlements and opponent of a two-state agreement with the Palestinians, has been confirmed by the US Foreign Relations Committee as the next US ambassador to Israel.

Twelve senators on the committee voted for him and nine against. Liberal opponents of Friedman have called his nomination "disastrous" and a threat to peace.

Friedman, an Orthodox bankruptcy lawyer, has worked for US President Donald Trump for years, and now needs to be approved by the full Senate, a date for which has yet to be scheduled.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Friedman is further to the right of the political map than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, opposes a two-state solution, and has said that calls for Israeli settlers to leave the occupied West Bank are “nothing short of an attempt at ethnic cleansing.”

He also advocates for the expansion of Israeli settlements, viewed as illegal under international law, and said in 2015 that “Peace will come if and when Palestinians learn to stop hating us and to embrace life rather than worship death.”

He has also donated money to help settle Jews in the Muslim part of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Friedman has also endorsed Trump’s campaign promise to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move widely seen as an assault on the very foundations of the peace process.

Thursday’s vote saw Friedman winning the support of 11 Republican senators, and one Democrat, senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who broke rank. The remaining nine Democrats on the committee voted against the nomination.

Menendez counts many right-wing and Orthodox members among his supporters and donors, according to Haaretz, and his state has a large Jewish population.

Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in last year’s election, and a member of the Senate committee, on Thursday denounced Friedman’s nomination.

"The region is incredibly volatile. The last thing we need in this position is someone who has a penchant for over-the-top, hyperbolic, and even false statements," Kaine said.

The liberal Jewish community in the US has also voiced vociferous opposition to Friedman’s nomination.

On Thursday, J Street, a left-wing advocacy group, urged Americans to voice their rejection to their senators, and labelled Friedman a “completely inappropriate & disastrous choice for Israel Ambassador.”

Friedman, has in the past said that J Street members, and supporters of a two-state solution, were worse than Nazi collaborators. He also called former US President Barack Obama anti-Semitic, which he later apologised for during his nomination hearing last month.

Trump has himself thrown the prospect of a two-state solution into question, saying during a press conference with Netanyahu in February that he was not “opposed” to a one-state solution.