The remarks by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman last week, implying that the United States is giving Israel’s government the go-ahead to unilaterally annex part of the West Bank, are tantamount to spitting in the face of the Palestinians. And they augur ill for anyone who seeks a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the division of the land and the recognition of both peoples’ right to self-determination.
For two years Friedman has been helping draft the “deal of the century,” along with the son-in-law and senior adviser of President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Friedman said in an interview with The New York Times: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
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He did not specify what those circumstances might be. He also declined to say how the United States would respond if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to annex West Bank land unilaterally. “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense,” Friedman said.
These statements, which are identified with the position of Israel’s annexationist right, destroy Friedman’s legitimacy as an honest broker and retroactively justify the Palestinians’ apprehensions about Trump’s peace plan. After such remarks, it’s hard to be surprised by the Palestinians’ suspicions, which are expressed in part by their stated intention to boycott the summit in Bahrain where the United States is expected to disclose the plan’s economic section.
In the interview Friedman even accused the Obama administration, in allowing passage in 2016 of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 – which states that Israeli settlements violate international law – of giving credence to Palestinian arguments “that the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem belong to them.”
“Certainly Israel’s entitled to retain some portion of” the West Bank, Friedman said. Friedman is wrong and deceptive. Israel has no such right under international law because this is occupied territory that cannot be annexed. That was also the position of the U.S. administration, up to now.
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The retreat from this position is also the reason that five Democratic senators introduced last week a resolution supporting a two-state solution and opposing the annexation of any part of the West Bank. The Democrats know what Israel’s peace camp knows: Only a two-state solution can guarantee the rights of both peoples, and unilateral annexation of the territories runs contrary to Israel’s interests.
If the United States is sincere about wanting to hold a peace conference with Palestinian participation and to act as an honest broker between the two parties, its representatives must be neutral. Friedman represents the interests of the settler right, and he does not meet these preconditions.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.