WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's nominee to become US ambassador to Israel expressed skepticism Thursday that a two-state peace deal would be possible given what he called Palestinian violent extremism.
David Friedman, a longstanding supporter of Israeli causes, was facing a Senate confirmation hearing a day after Trump backed away from America's long-standing support of a two-state solution.
Echoing Trump, Friedman told lawmakers that he would welcome any deal reached between Israel and the Palestinians to end their conflict, but admitted he doubted the latter's commitment to peace.
"I would be delighted to see peace come to this region where people have suffered on both sides for so long," he said, facing questions after pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted his opening remarks.
"I have expressed my skepticism about the two-state solution solely on the basis of what I have perceived as unwillingness to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state."
Friedman, a 58-year-old Jewish American bankruptcy lawyer who has worked for Trump's property empire, was a controversial choice to represent the United States in Israel.
He is a longstanding supporter of Israel's push to build Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and on the West Bank on land that Palestinians would claim as theirs in any future peace deal.
On accepting Trump's nomination Friedman said he hoped to work from "the US embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem."
The current US embassy is in Tel Aviv, previous presidents having decided not to court Palestinian anger and disrupt peace efforts by endorsing Israel's claim on the holy city as its undivided capital.
Addressing concerns that his views make him a provocative choice for ambassador, Friedman insisted that he would be "delighted" if Israel and the Palestinians could come to a two-state peace deal.
He said that the groundwork for such an accord was reached at the 1993 Oslo talks between Israel's then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
But he argued that, since then, Palestinian violence against Israel has only increased.
"One of the primary commitments was chairman Arafat's commitment to begin to educate his people to stop hatred," he said.
"We haven't made progress since then, and terrorism has increased four-fold since before Oslo."
If Friedman's nomination is cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his appointment will be put to the full chamber at a later date, in what is expected to be a close vote.