U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a press conference at the White House, May 3, 2017. Bloomberg

U.S. Ambassador Friedman: Rebuilding Gaza Without Abbas Is 'Tremendous Prize' for Hamas

David Friedman tells members of American Jewish Congress: 'No capacity' for peace with Palestinians if Gaza not included

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told members of the American Jewish Congress in a telephone briefing Tuesday that "there is no capacity to have peace with the Palestinians unless there's peace with all the Palestinians, including the million and a half in Gaza."

Friedman went on to clarify that this "means there should be ideally one government [for the Palestinians]… If you go around the PA and somehow try to restructure Gaza without them, you're giving a tremendous prize to Hamas… with all the failings of the PA if the choice is Hamas we pick the PA."

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The U.S. ambassador reiterated, as he has publicly on several occasions in the past, that Trump's administration won't make Israel suffer negative consequences over the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Friedman also clarified that the only price U.S. President Donald Trump is asking the two sides to pay is to demonstrate willingness to advance in peace talks.

Friedman also confirmed a recent statement by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton that the administration did not have an exact deadline for the unveiling of its peace plan, and that it will not be presented at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.

"If we can't make a big deal we should make as many small deals as we can and improve people's lives and level of coexistence," the U.S. ambassador said.

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Speaking about other challenges in the Middle East, Friedman addressed the issue of Iran's presence in Syria. The envoy said that his country was committed to tackling this issue, whereas Russia is not doing enough to push the Iranians out of the war-torn country. He added that Israel was sending clear threats to the Russians as well as to Syrian President Bashar Assad that "Assad will quickly become a target."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened in the past that if Assad invites Iranian forces to Syria he will not be immune anymore, but Friedman's words have clarified that this is a personal threat on the Syrian president's life. "The more he [Assad] embraces Iran, the more he puts himself at risk," the U.S. ambassador said.

Speaking about internal Israeli affairs, Friedman addressed the controversy that was sparked over Israel's passage of the contentious nation-state law. He was heard giving explanations on behalf of Israel to members of the American Jewish Congress regarding the decision to pass the legislation.

"Israel is a democracy and it has a right to pass laws and govern its people," Friedman said and objected to the idea that the U.S. would interfere with the Israeli government's decision-making.

"There's a basic law of human dignity and nothing in the nation-state law overwrites that," he added.

Friedman allowed that "many in the Israeli leadership regretted that it had that effect on the Druze who serve in the military and on a personal level are amazing people" and that "there are things that could have been done better."

Nonetheless, the ambassador stated that he had no doubt that "at some point down the road the court will have to consider the interplay between the nation-state law and the basic law of human dignity… I'm pretty confident that the basic law of human dignity is going to win out."

He also defended Israel's right to pass the law and define itself primarily as a Jewish state. "I think it's important to read the law, because what the law says and the way it's been interpreted are different…. I think Israel has every right to recognize itself as a Jewish state."

Two weeks ago, a spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council told Haaretz that Trump's administration was interested in seeing a peace deal "with or without the Palestinian authority."

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