U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in an interview with Walla! News that Israel is "only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank." According to estimates by the EU and NGOs across the spectrum, Israel occupies around 60 percent of the West Bank including both settlements and closed military areas. The full interview is set to air Thursday night.
Friedman explained that a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is in the works, and will be presented in the coming months. He said that he views West Bank settlements as part of Israel, with "important nationalistic, historic, religious significance," adding that the term "two-state solution" has lost its meaning.
Responding to Friedman, a Palestinian official said to The Guardian that “Israel occupies 100% of the West Bank" and that if he were "a U.S. citizen I would be extremely concerned that my ambassador in Israel is using his position to try to emphasize the importance of settlements to Israel." Dr. Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that Friedman's comments are "really very bad news for the future of any American attempt to make peace in the Middle East."
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted at a meeting with the heads of Council of Judea and Samaria that he had convinced the Americans to take the distinction between settlement blocs and isolated settlements off the table. Netanyahu said that he had met with U.S. officials, including Friedman, and that Friedman insinuated to the Israeli team not to go overboard in regards to pushing new construction in the settlements.
Friedman, an Orthodox bankruptcy lawyer who has for years worked for Trump and his real estate business, holds views to the far right of the Israeli political map. During Trump's presidential run, Friedman was among the top advisers to say the president-elect would recognize united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and implement Congress' decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
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