'Settler Spokesman': Palestinians and Israel's Left Slam Friedman for Annexation Remarks

Palestinians accuse the U.S. ambassador of encouraging Israel to commit war crimes after the envoy said that Jerusalem 'has the right' to annex parts of the West Bank

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman mark the one year anniversary of the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, May 14, 2019.
AFP

Palestinian factions as well as Israeli left-wingers lashed at the U.S. ambassador to Israel on Saturday after the New York Times published an interview with him in which David Friedman said that Israel has a right to annex parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group released a statement in which it asked whether "this is the stance of the U.S. administration or the stance of the most radical of settlers."

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A State Department official asked late Saturday to clarify that “The administration position on settlements has not changed. No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the U.S. nor is it under discussion.”

Fatah added that the U.S. always perceived the West Bank as an occupied territory, and noted that any deviation from that stance would effectively destroy the two-state solution.

"Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank," Friedman told the New York Times.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Saeb Erekat attend the opening of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis, Tunisia, March 31, 2019.
Fethi Belaid/AP

The Palestine Liberation Organization's Secretary General Saeb Erekat tweeted that Friedman's comments make it clear that the vision he shares with U.S. President Donald Trump is "annexation of occupied territory, which is a war crime according to international law." According to Erekat, Friedman's words serve as further incentive to boycott the peace workshop in Bahrain which is slated to take place later this month.

Mustafa Barghouti, another senior Fatah member, said Friedman's remarks were rude but noted that they were not surprising because "Friedman has been identified a long time ago as the spokesman of the settlers."

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab also responded to the American envoy's comments, saying that "the Palestinian people will not disappear, and like an olive tree they are planted in their ground. The age of colonialism is over."

On the Israeli left, Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said in response to the report: "As long as Friedman is the U.S. ambassador in Israel and not in a settler state, he must know that annexation would be a disaster for the State of Israel. The ambassador is not here to assist Christian settlements that work to thwart the possibility of peace and security without occupation."

Israeli Arab political party Hadash-Ta'al echoed the criticism sounded by the Palestinian entities. Party chairman Ayman Odeh made a sharply-worded statement in which he went after Trump, saying that he "would like to convey a message to the orange man in the oval office."

"The only solution that would guarantee security and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians is the end of the occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian country alongside Israel. Unilateral annexation is a war crime," he stated.

Ofer Cassif, also of Hadash-Ta'al, expressed outrage at Friedman's remarks. "Neither the government of Israel nor the U.S. administration can hide the truth – the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories that will be released and lawfully returned to their owners as part of a just peace deal."

On the right, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan backed Friedman's comments, tweeting that "The Trump administration's view, which was expressed by Ambassador Friedman, is the only one that might bring about change and make the Palestinians understand that boycotting Israel and the United States and supporting terror and incitement won't achieve anything and they will be those losing the most by rejecting peace.

"For years the Palestinians were told that time is in their favor and therefore (in addition to many other reasons) they refused...," Erdan tweeted. 

Meanwhile, Israeli left-wing NGO Peace Now called on Trump to fire Friedman. "Ambassador Friedman is a Trojan horse sent by the settler right, which sabotages Israel's interests and the chance for peace. The price will be paid by the residents of the area, not by Friedman or Trump. The U.S. president, if he means to serve as a fair mediator, ought to send Friedman packing this evening."

Friedman also told the Times that the Palestinian side only has itself to blame for Trump's approach, a statement similar to comments made by Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner on Monday in which he said that massive cuts to PA aid were "a result of decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership."

Amir Tibon contributed to this report.