Israel shouldn’t allow the United States to dictate what its final borders should be in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, former American ambassador David Friedman told the Tivah Fund’s Conservatism Conference in Jerusalem.
“Israel must decide this issue. Because I can guarantee you that if any other body decides this issue, very few in Israel will be happy with the outcome,” said Friedman, who was the Trump administration’s envoy to Israel.
The administration had secured Israel’s agreement to suspend its plans to annex West Bank settlements in exchange for the Abraham Accords, under whose rubric it normalized ties with four Arab states.
But on Thursday, Friedman urged Israel not to abandon its sovereignty plans and to begin to prepare a national consensus for what its final borders should be, based on former US President Donald Trump’s peace plan. That plan placed all the West Bank settlements and most of east Jerusalem within Israel’s final borders.
Friedman recalled that Israel had annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 and eventually received US recognition of its sovereignty there. Similarly, he said, the US recognized Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem.
“When the nation of Israel said ‘Haam eem Hagolan,’ [the nation is with the Golan] the government responded, just as it did with Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal and undivided capital,” he said. “And the world respected Israel even if it didn’t agree. Then we came along and agreed with Israel on both Jerusalem and the Golan and the UN condemned us. But the sun rose the next morning, Israel continued to flourish and we even managed to achieve the Abraham Accords.”
Now, he said, Israel should do the same thing in the West Bank, regardless of US opinion.
While Israel’s relationship with the United States is important, Friedman emphasized, “as critical as it is for Israel to maintain good relations with its allies, especially the United States, first Israel must determine through its democratic channels what is the right course, and only then to make its case to the world.”
Dialogue around borders
Most countries know what their borders are, but in Israel, it’s a matter of dispute whether it’s the Jordan River or the 1949 Armistice line, the former ambassador said. He referenced the territory that Israel captured during the Six Day War – which it holds under IDF rule, but has not annexed.
"Israel must determine through its democratic channels what is the right course, and only then to make its case to the world."American Ambassador David Friedman
He urged Israel to create a national consensus around the issue of what its final border should be, he said, and then unilaterally unveil its new map.
“Create a national consensus and then execute a plan with confidence and pride,” Friedman said. “Respect yourselves and your right – I would say your sacred obligation – to chart the right course for the Jewish state. That’s what a grown-up nation does. Not everyone will agree with you, but everyone will respect you.”
He recalled the Trump administration’s peace plan and suggested that it be used as a “frame of reference” in this process.
“We put a lot of work into it after consultation with a lot of smart people. It does not belong in the dustbin, even if that’s where the Biden Administration would like it to rest.”
He was careful to state that he was making a suggestion, but not telling Israel what to do.
“I am not advocating here what Israel’s course should be,” he said, explaining that it’s “important that Israel decides for itself by itself with strength, unity and conviction.”