US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Tuesday said the Trump administration’s peace plan seeks “Palestinian autonomy” and self-governance, but stopped short of endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In an interview with CNN, the US diplomat also downplayed his past comments on Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank under a future accord, saying Jerusalem has not raised the issue with Washington, leaving the subject entirely “hypothetical.”
He also praised the Israeli security cabinet’s approval of Palestinian construction in the West Bank’s Area C and said the US administration has been encouraging Israel to improve conditions for the Palestinians in the area.
“We think it’s good for Israel and good for the Palestinians. It’s a matter of real significance and importance to us to improve the quality of life,” he said.
Asked whether the US peace plan’s political vision, which has yet to be unveiled, is based on a two-state solution formula, Friedman replied: “We haven’t used that phrase, but it’s not because we are trying to drive toward a one-state solution… The issue we have is agreeing in advance to a state because the word state conjures up with it so many potential issues that we think it does a disservice to us to use that phrase until we can have a complete exposition of all the rights and limitations that would go into Palestinian autonomy.”
“We believe in Palestinian autonomy, we believe in civilian self-governance, we believe that autonomy should be extended up until the point where it interferes with Israeli security and it’s a very complicated needle to thread,” added Friedman, calling the challenge of safeguarding Israel’s security under a peace plan “daunting.”
The Bahrain economic conference last month was aimed at “trying to help the Palestinians create some of the institutions necessary for statehood,” continued Friedman.
“Because let’s be clear, the last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state in between Jordan and Israel, and right now the Palestinian government is so weak,” Friedman said, citing threats to the PA’s governance by terror groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others.
Praising former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as a “great Israeli hero” who “gave his life to the cause of peace,” Friedman noted that the late Israeli leader was also reluctant to endorse Palestinian statehood.
“And when Yitzhak Rabin spoke to the Knesset to sell the Olso Accords, he also was unwilling to use the term Palestinian state. He preferred words like autonomy and self governance. Because that word, I think it just creates expectations — you know, cause[s] everybody to retreat to their corners and it’s not helpful.”
Friedman was also pressed about an interview with the New York Times last month, in which he suggested some degree of Israeli annexation of the West Bank could be legitimate.
“I don’t know, the question was put to me hypothetically,” he said, responding to a question on how much of the territory he envisions Israel annexing and under what circumstances.
“Israel has not presented to us any plan to maintain or annex any portion of the West Bank and we have no view on it at, all right? My view was a legal one whether Israel has the legal right, to maintain under some circumstances, some portion of the West Bank,” he continued. “The answer is yes, but it’s a hypothetical question, but more importantly it’s a legal question. And this is not a conflict that is going to be resolved in a court of law. It has to be resolved diplomatically. So I think much more was made of that than it really is worth.”
The interview came ahead of a visit to the region by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who will be meeting with regional leaders to advance the peace proposal. Last month, Kushner outlined the plan’s ambitious investment and development goals for the Palestinians in Bahrain, but the political aspects of the plan remain tightly under wraps.
The Palestinians skipped the Bahrain conference and rejected the peace plan outright, pressing on with its boycott of the administration since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and cut Palestinian aid.