US Ambassador says Israel could retain parts of West Bank

The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the New York Times that “under certain circumstances” Israel has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all of the West Bank.”

Asked how the US would respond if Israel annexed parts of the West Bank unilaterally, he said: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves.” According to the Jerusalem Post the White House gave no indication it will ask the ambassador to walk back his comments, although a senior US official told Reuters: “Israel has not presented any plans for a unilateral annexation of the West Bank and such a move is certainly not on the agenda.”

Friedman also attacked the Palestinian leadership for the “massive pressure” being exerted on Palestinian business leaders not to attend the economic conference in Bahrain on 25 June. Friedman said there is a “silent majority” of Palestinians who would jump at the Trump peace plan if not for fear of repressive West Bank officials.

Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat criticised Friedman’s comments saying: “Trump’s ambassador has proven why we should not go to the conference in Bahrain. His vision is to annex occupied territories, which is a war crime according to international law.” The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it was considering a complaint to the ICC against Friedman. Israeli NGO Peace Now said: “Ambassador Friedman is a Trojan horse sent by the right wing terrorist settlers to sabotage the interests of Israel and any chance of peace… Trump must instruct Friedman to pack his things this very evening.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan welcomed Friedman’s comments saying his view: “Is the only one that possibly will bring about change and will cause the Palestinians to understand that a boycott of Israel and America and support of terrorism and incitement won’t achieve anything… Applying Israeli law in the settlements of Judea and Samaria is a step in the right direction, which will bring the message there and will promote peace.”

Ben-Dror Yemini in Yedioth Ahronoth  wrote that: “In all the peace proposals, the settlement blocs, which are about five percent of the territory of Judea and Samaria, are meant to remain in Israel. If that is what annexation means, then Friedman did not say anything new. The point is, it’s not clear what Friedman meant.”  Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz argued that Friedman has made Netanyahu’s life more difficult, adding that “For years, the prime minister has cited US pressure to stymie settlement-building in the West Bank. The American ambassador just took away that excuse.”