In a meeting with several settler leaders Wednesday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he saw “no reason to evacuate settlements” in a peace deal, a Likud lawmaker said.
MK Yehudah Glick, who organized the sit-down with Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damari, recounted the statement to the Times of Israel and said that the ambassador was “very explicit” in his remark regarding Israeli communities in the West Bank.
A spokeswoman for the embassy declined to comment.
Damari said the purpose of the meeting at the US embassy in Jerusalem was to present a number of Israeli-Palestinian economic ventures in the West Bank, ahead of the anticipated unveiling of the US’s peace initiative.
According to the regional council chairman, who presides over 19 Israeli settlements in the southern West Bank, the sit-down provided an opportunity to present the settler perspective.
“The reality of recent decades has taught us that any attempt to impose political solutions by people who aren’t on the ground [in Israel] and don’t breateh the conflict every day is doomed to fail, and the past two bloody decades are proof of this,” Damari said in a statement following the meeting.
Joined by prominent Palestinian businessman Muhammad Nasser, Glick and Damari presented a plan for the construction of a new Israeli industrial zone in the southern West Bank that will employ thousands of Palestinian workers, in addition to a medical center that will serve both populations over the Green Line.
Glick, a resident of the southern West Bank settlement of Otniel, said Friedman “very much admired” the proposals, but wanted to see them up and running first before weighing in.
“As soon as there are facts on the ground, the US will be happy to assist in advancing things,” the Likud lawmaker recalled Friedman as saying, though he stressed that he was not the spokesman for the ambassador.
The Israeli representatives also sought to enlist the support of the ambassador in backing an economic peace plan, which Damari asserted would “make redundant the discourse of concessions” — i.e., land for peace.
Glick added: “I think it’s the only way to move forward here because neither we nor the Palestinians are going to be disappearing any time soon and we have to learn to live together.”
The Likud MK claimed such a policy was consistent with the worldview of both Friedman and the US government, which “is working toward building peace rather than destroying communities.”
At the conclusion of the meeting the sides “agreed to continue an open channel of communication,” Glick said, with US officials to be kept up-to-date on the status of the proposals and receive new ones as well.
Hours after the Wednesday meeting at the embassy, Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, tweeted a statement from multiple officials — including Friedman — that said the only way to achieve a final-status accord was for both parties to accept painful compromises.
“No one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that’s the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved,” the officials said. “Peace can only succeed if it is based on realities.”
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) August 15, 2018
Trump officials have said they are finishing the plan and working on rolling it out, but have not offered any timeline.
Even before the release of the plan, the Palestinian Authority, which is boycotting the administration, has rejected the attempt to jumpstart talks.
Palestinian frustration with the White House dates back to last December, when Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. The new compound was eventually opened in May.
Since Trump’s announcement, PA officials have refused to meet with members of Trump’s cabinet, declaring that they had relinquished their capacity to act as an honest mediator in negotiations.
Nevertheless, the Trump-appointed team tasked with trying to solidify a peace deal has been pushing ahead with developing a plan for what the president has called the “ultimate deal.”
Unlike previous US envoys, Friedman had been known as a strong supporter of Israeli settlements before he took office, serving as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports the large West Bank settlement near Ramallah.
That backing has continued since his appointment as ambassador. In September, Friedman said that settlements “are part of Israel.”
However, Friedman’s own State Department rebuffed those comments. Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that the ambassador’s comments should “not be read as a shift in US policy.”