War of words heats up between Trump administration, Palestinian leadership

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a ceremony in Jerusalem on May 21, 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War.
(Abir Sultan / AFP/Getty Images)

An uptick in violent incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem devolved into a sharp war of words Monday between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, culminating in a rare and undiplomatic vulgarity aimed at the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

In an angry speech in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made two of the harshest insults in the Arabic language, calling Friedman a “settler” and a “son of a dog.”

It was the latest volley in a steep deterioration in the U.S.-Palestinian relationship since President Trump’s announcement in December that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would transfer its embassy here, a move scheduled for mid-May.


On Monday, as the third Israeli victim in a spate of Palestinian violence was buried, Friedman took to Twitter to voice his anger at the Palestinian Authority for failing to condemn a car ramming attack in the West Bank and a stabbing in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Friedman, a Trump bankruptcy lawyer before he was appointed to the delicate diplomatic post, is a longtime donor to Israel’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. He has championed the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, part of which is claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state.

Abbas’ Fatah party tweeted a lurid red-and-black hand-drawn portrait of Friedman captioned “Settler, Son of Dog,” a crass insult in Arabic.

In an unusually fiery speech, Abbas attacked Friedman for stating that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are part of Israel.


“Son of a dog. They [the settlers] are building on their land? You are a settler and your family are settlers,” Abbas said.

At an Israeli Foreign Ministry conference titled the “Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism,” Friedman implied that Abbas’ remarks amounted to an anti-Jewish slur.

“Three young Israelis were murdered over the weekend,” he said at the Jerusalem forum, “in cold blood, by Palestinian terrorists, and the reaction from the Palestinian Authority was deafening. No condemnation. I saw his response on my iPhone. His response was to refer to me as ‘son of a dog.’ Is that anti-Semitism or political discourse? I leave that up to you.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also reacted to Abbas’ remarks, using the nickname by which the Palestinian leader is known in the region. In a statement, he said that “Abu Mazen’s attack on the U.S. ambassador, David Friedman, says it all. For the first time in decades, the American administration has stopped pampering the Palestinian leaders and tells them, ‘That’s it.’ Apparently the shock of the truth has caused them lose their cool.”

The State Department termed Abbas’ remarks “outrageous and unhelpful.”

Tarnopolsky is a special correspondent.