U.S. Ambassador to Israel's Participation in Peace Talks Is Good News for Palestinians, State Dept. Spokesperson Says

David Friedman is the first U.S. ambassador to Israel to participate in a meeting between American and Palestinian negotiators, without any Israeli presence, since the late 1990s

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and David Friedman , the new United States Ambassador to Israel attend an event marking the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, opposite the Old City wall and near the Tower of David in Jerusalem May 21, 2017.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and David Friedman , the new United States Ambassador to Israel attend an event marking the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of East Jerusalem during POOL/REUTERS

WASHINGTON - U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman's participation in a meeting with Palestinian officials earlier that day wasn't a diplomatic downgrade for the Palestinians, but "perhaps even an upgrading." Nauert spoke on the issue at the department's daily press briefing.

On Tuesday morning, Haaretz reported that in a rare move, the Trump administration has asked the Palestinian Authority to add Friedman to meetings between Palestinian negotiators and Jason Greenblatt, the president's special envoy to the peace process. The last time an ambassador to Israel took part in a meeting between American and Palestinian negotiators, without any Israeli presence, was in the late 1990's with then-ambassador Martin Indyk. In the last two decades, the senior US diplomatic figure attending such meetings was always the US Consul General in Jerusalem. 

Nauert was asked about the report during the briefing, and replied that "We’re very pleased to have the ambassador’s expertise in this. And I think it raises the level and indicates just how important it is for this administration to try to come to some sort of peace agreement." She added that "I see it as a positive thing that the ambassador is there," and that while the way such meetings were conducted in the past doesn't truly matter, "what matters is the Palestinians, as I understand, welcomed him." 

According to Nauert, the administration is hopeful and "not giving up yet" on the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort. She also said that the administration's comprehensive settlement policy was still "under review." In a briefing held last week, Nauert strongly denied reports that the administration was considering to pull the plug on its' peace efforts, and emphasized that President Trump personally considers the issue a "top priority" for his presidency.