US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A forced evacuation of West Bank settlements could spark civil war in Israel, US Ambassador David Friedman told Jewish American leaders in Jerusalem.
The ambassador spoke on Tuesday at a private, off-the-record briefing to a Conference of Presidents of a Major American Jewish Organizations delegation currently in Israel.
Portions of the Israeli right-wing public have long feared that a large-scale settlement evacuation could lead to civil war.
Friedman told the delegation that he shared that concern, particularly given the increasing number of national-religious officers who hold command positions in the IDF. “These are [people] whose commitment to the land stems from their belief that it was given to them by God,” Friedman said.
In other comments, Friedman said that relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would take place no later than 2019.
Friedman threw his support behind the Israeli contention that in any final-status agreement, Israel must hold onto the Jordan Valley for security reasons, or risk having it turn into a second Gaza.
Given that the Palestinians have not shown they can build institutions that allow them to live in peace with their neighbors, the ambassador said, their relationship to Israel should be viewed as a divorce rather than a marriage.
Friedman’s comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were reported in Hebrew by Channel 10 News journalist Barak Ravid, both on air and on his Twitter feed.
Representatives of both the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Presidents Conference said Friedman’s remarks had been taken out of context.
“The Channel 10 report is based on three attendees at the conference who failed to provide much of the context behind Ambassador Friedman’s comments as well as significant additional and related remarks by the ambassador,” an embassy official said.
“Ambassador Friedman made clear in his remarks that the president is committed to a comprehensive peace agreement that benefits both Israelis and Palestinians, and that the US is working on a plan to achieve that goal. As for settlements, the ambassador believes that unrestrained settlement growth is not helpful for peace,” the official added.
Presidents Conference executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said, “The comments appear to be out of context and thereby distort both the intent and the meaning of what the ambassador was saying.”