Friedman: US position is never evacuate settlements

“When we feel we've exhausted these efforts, of course we will help Israel formalize its boundaries, including communities in Judea and Samaria.”

US Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
US Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The American position is that West Bank settlements should remain in place permanently and Israel should apply sovereignty to them at a later date, US Ambassador David Friedman said on Wednesday.
“The position of the United States is that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria will never be evacuated. We will never ask any community in Judea and Samaria to ever disband,” Friedman said in a Kohelet Policy Forum conference on the Abraham Accords, conducted online with the Shiloh Forum and Israel Hayom.
“We believe [that] in [the] long run, it is in Israel’s interest and America’s interest to extend [Israeli] sovereignty over these communities.”
The Trump administration’s plan, should he be reelected, is “to put all our efforts in the near future in diplomatic efforts to make Israel as safe, secure and prosperous as the nations of the region and reduce that threat level as much as possible” by encouraging more countries to normalize ties with Israel.
“When we feel we’ve exhausted these efforts, of course we will help Israel formalize its boundaries, including communities in Judea and Samaria,” Friedman, who has voiced his personal support for settlements, said.
Friedman said he has “no doubt” that more nations in the Arab League will make peace with Israel, saying the whole region is made up of potential normalization partners.
“Over time, even the greatest of Israel’s enemies see the trends, see the way the wind is blowing, and will be left with a tough choice, to be on the wrong side of history or join the circle of peace,” he stated.
Asked about Saudi Arabia, Friedman said not to discount Riyadh’s decision to allow flights between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain over its airspace, but also said the Saudis have “to go through this process at their own pace.”
Friedman described the timeline of how the US moved from trying to implement US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which would allow Israel to extend its laws to 30% of Judea and Samaria and have a Palestinian state be established in the rest of it, to prioritizing peace between Israel and Arab countries.
The coronavirus pandemic grew serious in Israel and the US over a month after the peace plan was presented in late January, making diplomatic engagement more difficult, Friedman said.
But the ambassador also put the onus for delays in getting the Trump plan off the ground on Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, saying they “took a very negative view on the sovereignty issue, at least in isolation.
“We were struggling with those issues to bring some consensus in the position within the government of Israel,” Friedman recounted.
“As all that was happening, we saw an opportunity... for Israel to make peace with the [United Arab] Emirates and also saw additional countries likely to follow.”
At that point, the Trump administration decided to “take a step back” from the peace plan, because peace with the UAE was an immediate opportunity, while “there are Israeli flags flying in Hebron, Shiloh, Gush Etzion, Eli, and under our plan they will be flying there forever, so it is not an immediate concern.”
Friedman pointed out that in the August 15 announcement of ties between Israel and the UAE facilitated by Trump, it said that sovereignty plans were “suspended.”
“Not canceled or abandoned, suspended,” he emphasized. “To suspend is by definition temporary.”
NETANYAHU ALSO addressed the Kohelet Policy Forum conference, saying “everyone can see the fruits of this peace accord” with the UAE.
“The UAE committed to bringing massive investments to Israel, hundreds of millions of shekels,” he said. “It’s already happening and it will happen even more.”
Netanyahu quoted from his own book published 25 years ago, A Place Among the Nations, in which he predicted that countries would seek out Israel for peace and diplomatic relations if the country is strong.
“In our region and in the world, the strong is appreciated, not the weak,” he said. “Some say to get peace we must retreat to indefensible borders, put our security in the hands of others and uproot dozens of communities, if not more. Global superpowers said concessions will bring peace, and peace will bring security. This dangerous plan, if it were to happen, would make Israel vulnerable and weak.”
Peace with the UAE “broke the Palestinian veto,” Netanyahu said, in that it established ties with Israel without there being peace with the Palestinians first.
“I hope the international community learned their lesson. Whoever says peace depends on the Palestinian veto will wait an entire generation for peace to happen,” the prime minister warned.
He pointed out that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas considered suing Great Britain over the Balfour Declaration calling to establish a Jewish national home, which was written 103 years ago.
Still, Netanyahu said he hopes “progress and breakthroughs with the Arab world will eventually bring about a change in the Palestinians’ position. I hope they will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and our right to exist in our homeland.
“Until that day arrives, I will take care of Israel’s security and strong economy, and will continue making peace with whoever wants real peace with us,” he vowed.