Friedman to ‘Post’: Settlers should want annexation to be done right

US ambassador provides clarity in the confusion over the timing of US recognition of Israeli settlement annexation.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman
Waiting for annexation, rather than having it be done immediately, is in the interest of settlers, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Friedman sought to provide clarity regarding the timing of US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over 30% of Judea and Samaria under the Trump administration’s peace plan, which they call a “vision.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the immediate aftermath of the plan’s presentation last month that he would annex West Bank settlements the following week. But he amended that to after the March 2 election in remarks this week. This came after Special Adviser to the US President Jared Kushner repeatedly said annexation could take a few months and would come after the election.
Though it appeared at first that Netanyahu’s and Kushner’s statements were at odds with one another, Friedman said: “There has never been a substantive disagreement on these issues.”
He pointed out that US President Donald Trump referred in his address to a presenting of the plan “to a committee being formed to work through the process of converting the conceptual map into a detailed rendering such that Israel could apply its laws in a precise manner and the US could recognize such application.”
That committee would be responsible for “going from a conceptual map drawn at a scale of more than a million to one to specific borders.” The process of doing so “is not duly protracted, but [is] certainly one that is careful and deliberative” and requires “judgment calls,” Friedman said.
“I would think the residents of Judea and Samaria would want Israel to get those right,” he added.
US recognition of Israeli law in those areas of the West Bank will be predicated on a four-year freeze of Israeli construction in the parts of Area C that are designated as part of a Palestinian state and on Israel’s agreement to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines of the US plan, Friedman said.
It is not conditional on the Palestinians’ response to the plan, he said, adding: “We strongly believe that it is in the best interests of the Palestinians to engage on this plan and not to miss this historic opportunity.
“I hope the Palestinians consider this with an open mind. It would be disappointing if the Palestinians don’t engage. It would be yet another missed opportunity on their part,” Friedman said.
The Trump plan “presents a firm offer from Israel to the Palestinians for statehood based upon detailed conditions, economic opportunity and specific territorial dimensions. This is unprecedented in the history of the conflict,” he said.
Friedman expressed “hope that the Palestinian people appreciate American insistence that a future Palestinian state respect human rights and protect basic freedoms for all its citizens.”
Listing the plan’s advantages, he said: “The vision recasts the peace model with full recognition of Israel and the region’s security needs. It proposes fair borders that retain Israel’s biblical heartland and creates a clear path for Israel to achieve recognized sovereignty over that heartland. It rejects the inhumane concept of evacuations. It provides a sensible approach to refugees. It preserves Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital while maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount. It requires an end to terror payments and other malign activity. It mandates a return of all hostages including their remains, and it discontinues the dangerous practice of offering the release of terrorists as a sign of ‘good faith.’”
In light of this, Friedman – despite being identified with the Israeli Right before becoming ambassador, as a columnist for Arutz Sheva and a donor to the yeshiva in Beit El in the West Bank – was able to wholeheartedly support a Palestinian state under the conditions delineated in the Trump plan.
“To me, the issue was not statehood,” he said. “In a perfect world, Israel and the Palestinians are both best served if they live separately in a nation state of the Jewish people and a nation state of the Palestinian people, respectively.
“The issue is what type of state? The state envisioned by prior envoys and experts represented an existential threat to the State of Israel, the Kingdom of Jordan and the entire region. The Palestinian state that the Trump plan envisions cannot threaten Israel – it only comes into existence after the Palestinians have ceased malign activity, and, even then, the state would be subject to Israel’s overriding security control.”
Still, Friedman recognized the Palestinians have difficulty with Israel getting all of its security demands met.
“Security is not a political issue,” he said. “In this part of the world, there is no margin for error. While it is anticipated that the Palestinian Security Forces will be the face of security for the Palestinian people, Israelis and Palestinians face significant common threats, and Israel’s supervisory presence is essential to keeping everyone safe. This is the right structure, and if it doesn’t gain immediate traction, I hope that it serves as the basis for future diplomatic efforts in the years to come.”
Ten days after Trump presented “Peace to Prosperity,” Friedman said he is encouraged by the responses.
“We anticipated much of the criticism, whether from the Palestinian leadership, some of the experts who are heavily invested in past practices that led nowhere, the far Left that seems willing to sacrifice Israel’s security on the altar of political correctness, and some Democratic politicians who reflexively hate everything that the president supports,” he said.
However, Friedman cited a “wellspring of smart and well-regarded thought leaders, along with courageous regional players,” who support the plan.
As for the criticism that a month before an election was a bad time to release the plan, he said the US would have preferred to release it when there was a new government, but “the election season is still upon us with no end in sight, and the plan has been in a drawer now for almost a year.”
Friedman denied the timing was meant to be a boost to Netanyahu’s campaign, saying: “We mitigated the political component by obtaining the support for the plan from both candidates for prime minister. It was a gift to the State of Israel and a gift to the Palestinians. It was a gift to the region.”
While political bickering over the plan continues, Friedman said, “I would urge everyone to recognize that the president put out a vision for the next 100 years, not the next 30 days. I believe that there is a national consensus that this plan is in Israel’s best interests, and I look forward to that consensus emerging to drive the political process.”