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Defense secretary choice once opposed expanding Israeli settlements

By David Gutman and Hal Bernton | The Seattle Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 7, 2017

SEATTLE — Retired Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, has condemned expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, repeatedly said the U.S. must find a way for a two-state solution in the region and praised Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal as “valiant.”

That’s a position sharply at odds with the incoming administration’s and with Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, who has called a two-state solution “an illusion” that “needs to end.”

During a 2011 speech in his hometown of Richland, Wash., Mattis also spoke favorably of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s work in the region.

“Israel and Palestine, the current situation between those two peoples is unsustainable,” Mattis said. “We’re going to have to find a way for a two-state solution. If we do not, then we will continue to see warfare as it keeps the kettle boiling out there.”

“That is why you see so much of Secretary Clinton’s efforts go into trying to keep this peace effort at least alive,” Mattis said.

At the time, Mattis was leading U.S. Central Command, in charge of military operations throughout the Middle East. He repeated his position on Israel in July 2013, after leaving the military.

In that interview in Aspen, Colo., Mattis called Kerry “valiant” and urged, “

Kerry last month gave a speech rebuking Israel after the U.S. abstained from a United Nations resolution condemning the settlements.

But Mattis, in his 2013 speech, used harsher language than Kerry, saying continued settlements could lead to apartheid.

“The settlements, and where they’re at, are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option,” he said, because they make any potential border impractical.

“Either it ceases to be a Jewish state, or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote—apartheid,” Mattis said. “I paid a military price every day as commander of CENTCOM, because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

Mattis’ stated views could hardly be more at odds with the position of David Friedman, Trump’s choice to be ambassador to Israel.

In an August op-ed article, Friedman wrote that a two-state solution has “never been a solution, only a narrative. But even the narrative itself now needs to end.”

Trump had called on the Obama administration to veto the U.N. resolution and had harsh criticism after it passed.

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

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©2017 The Seattle Times

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Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis testifies at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2014, as former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker looks on.
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