Settlers on Friday praised US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for saying settlements in the West Bank are “part of Israel” and that the two-state solution “has largely lost its meaning,” arguing that he was only describing the reality on the ground.
“Ambassador Friedman should be commended for using facts to describe the reality in Judea and Samaria,” Oded Revivi of the Yesha Council umbrella group said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.
During a Thursday interview broadcast on the Walla news website, Friedman was asked about his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to speculate on the Trump administration’s plans moving forward on the issue. Some of his answers largely contradicted long-held US positions and the State Department later clarified his words did not indicate a shift in policy from Washington.
“I think the settlements are part of Israel,” Friedman said. “I mean, [Israel’s] only occupying two percent of the West Bank,” he elaborated, seemingly referring to the built up area of settlements beyond the Green Line. Israel maintains civil and military control of the entirety of Area C, which makes up roughly 60% of the West Bank, and control of all the borders.
His use of “two percent” particularly angered Palestinians, who released statements blasting Friedman’s comments just hours later.
“It is not the first time that Mr. David Friedman has exploited his position as US ambassador to advocate and validate the Israeli government’s policies of occupation and annexation,” said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is currently in the US awaiting a lung transplant.
“His latest statement about Israel ‘occupying only 2% of the West Bank’… is not only false and misleading but contradict[s] international law, United Nations resolutions and also the historical US position,” Erekat said, adding that “Israel is internationally recognized as the occupying power over 100% of Palestine.”
But Revivi, who is vying to be the next chairman of the Yesha Council, reinforced Friedman’s comments. “All of the Israeli towns and cities plus all infrastructure, including roads, adds up to less than two percent of what is described as the West Bank,” he said.
“For decades the international community has been eating up Palestinian propaganda without checking the reality on the ground,” Revivi continued.
Friedman’s own State Department, however, rebuffed his comments. Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that the ambassador’s comments should “not be read as a shift in US policy.”
“I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed,” she added, with emphasis. ”I want to be crystal clear.”
Far from considering settlements to be part of Israel, American foreign policy has traditionally held that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War, and does not regard construction there as part of the settlement enterprise, has never claimed sovereignty in the West Bank.
In the Walla interview, Friedman cited UN Security Council Resolution 242, which passed in November 1967, that said a Middle East peace deal should include a withdrawal of “Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
A common argument made by the Israeli right-wing is that the resolution didn’t say “the territories” or “all the territory” — leaving an opening for Israel to retain parts of the land it captured.
“When Resolution 242 was adopted in 1967, it was, and remains today, the only substantive resolution that was agreed to by everybody,” Friedman told Walla. “The 1967 borders were viewed by everybody as not secure, so Israel would retain a meaningful portion of the West Bank, and it would return that which it didn’t need for peace and security.”
Referring to the two-state solution, Friedman said the concept “has largely lost its meaning, or at least has a different meaning to different people.” He argued that the term has been exploited by so many to the point where it is no longer useful.
In comments seeming to build on Friedman’s words, Revivi said, “peace is about two peoples living side-by-side and was never about ethnically cleansing Jews from Judea.”
“This Yom Kippur, it’s time the world atones for their past sins and acknowledges that our communities, where Jews and Palestinians live, drive and work alongside each other, are in fact the key to lasting peace,” he said.