Echoing comments by US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser earlier this month, but contrasting with remarks by the president himself, American envoy David Friedman reportedly insisted on Tuesday that the Trump administration would not demand any special concessions from Israel in peace talks as a quid pro quo for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem in May.
Concerns were raised in Israel after Trump said earlier this month that Israel would pay “a higher price” in any future talks with the Palestinians because of the move. But in a call with US Jewish leaders, Friedman said the comment only meant that Trump might ask the Israelis to “lean in a little bit” at the negotiating table.
“The president feels that if the parties are lucky enough to be sitting in a room and making progress, he might say to the Israelis, ‘Look, can you do a little bit more? Look what we did for you. Is there something more that you could do?’,” said Friedman. “It’s not that he has something specific in mind, but just that under the circumstances that the United States has engaged in really significant good faith efforts to strengthen Israel and strengthen its historical multi-thousand-year connection to Jerusalem, maybe the Israelis could make it clear by leaning in a little bit as well. That’s all it meant,” the envoy said, according to quotes carried by the political news site Jewish Insider.
“I was there when the [embassy relocation] decision was made,” Friedman reportedly added. “I was there watching it and advocating for it in real time. There is not and there never was any demand made of Israel that they do anything in exchange for the embassy move.”
On August 21, Trump told a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that the Palestinians “will get something very good” in any future negotiations in return for the US having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said of his recognition of Jerusalem last December and the relocation of the US embassy to the capital in May, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table. And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.” The Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens,” Trump said.
Friedman’s other comments in the private call were wide-ranging, and suggested the meaning of Trump’s words are not likely to be tested anytime soon.
The ambassador said there was “no schedule” for the presentation of the administration’s much-anticipated peace plan, and that it was “not imminent,” as the US continues to “listen and talk to people.”
“I would imagine that we will roll something out. I hesitate even to put a month on it because it has shifted as we continue to listen and talk to people. So it’s not imminent.” Friedman added the administration was “just trying to think of when we think is the right time, garnered to get the most positive response and maybe make the most progress.”
He dealt at length with the ongoing political crisis with the Gaza Strip, saying the chance for obtaining any sort of stable agreement between Israel and the coastal enclave was “very low,” according to other reports about the call.
Gaza is a disease without a cure that, at the moment, Israel can only manage, rather than offer any long-term solution, he was quoted by the Walla news site as saying.
Friedman reportedly added that until there is a reconciliation deal that returns the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip, the most that could be hoped for was a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
He was also quoted as making scathing remarks about the PA’s handling of the Gaza crisis, saying that the Palestinian Authority was speaking with two voices on the issue: leveling sanctions on the Strip on one hand while talking about uniting it on the other. Friedman reportedly said that much of the violence emanating from the Strip was due to Abbas’s policies.
The PA’s behavior put Israel and the US in a bind, he added, according to Haaretz, saying: “If you go around the PA and somehow try to restructure Gaza without them, you’re giving a tremendous prize to Hamas… with all the failings of the PA if the choice is Hamas we pick the PA.”