The US administration’s much-anticipated peace plan will not call for the uprooting of even a single settler, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Wednesday, drawing sharp criticism from Ramallah.
“Having seen the experience of the evacuation of Gaza [in the summer of 2005], I don’t believe that there is a realistic plan that can be implemented that would require anyone — Jew or Arab — to be forced to leave their home,” Friedman told the pro-settler Israel National News website.
“We think that’s just a recipe for disaster. It almost caused a civil war on much less aggressive circumstances in Gaza, compared to Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, in which some 8,000 settlers were moved in a several-day operation. “And so we are not of the view that any forced evacuations are achievable,” he said.
There are an estimated 350,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements, plus hundreds of thousands more in East Jerusalem neighborhoods that Palestinians claim for their future state.
Friedman called uprooting settlers was “an inhumane process,” confirming that the peace plan would not include it.
He cited the “extraordinary adverse reaction” the Gaza disengagement triggered among many Israelis, “many of whom probably hadn’t been to Gaza but they felt viscerally uncomfortable with the idea of uprooting anyone from their home. And I think it’s failed policy and it’s not something we would advance,” Friedman said.
During the interview, Friedman defended Israel’s settlement enterprise, stressing that the White House under US President Donald Trump has “not been critical of settlements in any absolute sense.”
Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Friedman’s interview with a pro-settlement outlet reaffirmed “the ideological commonalities between the Trump team and the Israeli settlers’ movement. Both agree that Israeli settlements, recognized as war crimes under international law that deny the Palestinian right to self-determination, should remain in occupied Palestine forever.”
In a statement, Erekat called on the international community to “take immediate action to save the prospects of a just and lasting peace against the systematic attempts of the US administration and Israel to undermine international law and perpetuate the denial of the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine.”
In June, Friedman — long known as a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements — caused a controversy when he hinted in an interview with The New York Times that Israel would be allowed to annex parts of the West Bank.
“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva near the Western Wall, where he participated in the traditional priestly blessing on the occasion of the Sukkot holiday, Friedman said that Washington is “desperately” waiting for a new Israeli government to be formed. The US will release its so-called Deal of the Century soon thereafter and expects a prompt response from the next Israeli government, he said.
The peace plan will be released in its current form regardless of who the Israeli people chose to be their leader, he stressed.
The ambassador also explained why the White House has been hesitant to release the plan before a new Israeli coalition is established.
“During election periods people aren’t necessarily thinking about the long term,” he said. “They’re thinking about how do we position ourselves to gain votes in the short term. It’s not the right environment to discuss something this important, which has such long-term ramifications.”
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