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Trump Shift on Israel Highlights Lawyers' Roles in Middle East Policy

[caption id="attachment_5093" align="alignnone" width="620"] Jerusalem
Photo: Shutterstock.com[/caption] Less than a year after leaving his New York law firm to join the Trump administration, David Friedman can boast a remarkable achievement: helping to guide president’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy there. Along with Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, a real estate lawyer who was chief legal officer to Trump’s companies and now serves as an informal Middle East envoy, Friedman has been credited with steering the administration’s controversial move Wednesday. [caption id="attachment_5094" align="alignright" width="199"] David Friedman[/caption] A bankruptcy law specialist who represented Trump as a businessman, Friedman formally became U.S. ambassador to Israel in May after resigning as a name partner at the firm now known as Kasowitz Benson Friedman. His former partner Marc Kasowitz continues to represent the president. Friedman cheered Wednesday’s foreign policy announcement in a tweet. “Today.@POTUS displayed the ultimate test of leadership and courage by standing up for what's just and true, even in the face of stiff opposition. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital today as it was 3000 years ago. Congratulations to .@realDonaldTrump for this historic decision.” Greenblatt was also celebrating. “POTUS' courageous speech recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital today reflects current and historic reality. No matter how certain parties react, we will continue to be hard at work putting together our peace plan to benefit all parties,” he tweeted. Meanwhile, amid fierce debates over the administration's about-face on Jerusalem, some have taken time to question the credentials of Kushner, Friedman and Rosenblatt to be conducting U.S.-Israel policy. “A bunch of Orthodox Jews who have no idea about anything,” is how Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban described the team to Kushner during a question and answer session at a Brookings Institution forum in Washington, D.C. this week. “The team has an entrepreneur—you—a real-estate lawyer, a bankruptcy lawyer. I don’t know how you’ve lasted eight months in this line-up. There’s not a Middle East macher in this group,” Saban said, using the Yiddish word for bigwig. Kushner, the event's keynote speaker, responded that while the team was “not conventional” it was “perfectly qualified.” He then described Friedman as “one of the most brilliant bankruptcy lawyers and a close friend of mine and the president.” Haim noted that the situation in the Middle East had indeed been "bankrupt". “You can argue, why have they never had a bankruptcy lawyer working on this before,” Kushner agreed. He and Haim also agreed that a real estate lawyer could also help the Middle East, since the disputes there are chiefly about land holdings.

David Friedman