TEL AVIV – In another departure from past policy, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attended a business forum in an official capacity in the West Bank Jewish community of Ariel, the first such visit from a U.S. government representative.
Traditionally, American envoys in Israel have abstained from crossing the so-called pre-1967 borders, much less making official visits to the West Bank.
Friedman has in the past made official visits to West Bank settlements, but these are usually in the form of condolence calls to the families of victims of terror. This is the first time he has attended a conference.
The closed-door event, organized by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was attended by both Palestinian and Israeli business leaders with the goal of promoting joint economic ventures in the West Bank.
After the event, Friedman took to Twitter to blast the Palestinian leadership, saying the businessmen he met with are “ready, willing and able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace and we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”
At the invitation of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, I met in Ariel with Palestinian & Israeli business leaders ready, willing & able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace & we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening? pic.twitter.com/g91fGHNDzF
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) October 16, 2018
Avi Zimmerman, one of the founders of the JSCCI, said that Friedman wanted to focus on “encouraging Palestinian business leaders, in particular” to cooperate on such ventures.
Another founding member of the NGO, Ashraf Jabari, told the Times of Israel that Friedman “promised to speak to Israeli officials if we face any obstacles in carrying out our projects.”
The meeting was originally set to take place in the Palestinian area of the West Bank’s flashpoint city of Hebron but was relocated for security reasons.
Left-wing group J-Street, financed by billionaire George Soros, slammed Friedman’s attendance.
“By making an official public appearance at an event in an Israeli West Bank settlement, Ambassador Friedman once again crossed a major, longstanding red line of bipartisan US policy,” said J-Street Vice President of Government Affairs Dylan Williams in a statement.
“The Trump administration continues to send a clear message of support for the settlement movement and the agenda of the Israeli right,” he said.
JSCCI had applied to receive a $200,000 grant from USAID, the Times of Israel reported, but would no longer be able to receive such a grant since the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding to all aid programs that bring together Palestinians and Israelis.
Zimmerman said that while he and other protested the move, Friedman and the Trump administration “see things differently” and believe the cut in funding will be in service of the “greater good.”