US State Department backpedals from ambassador’s comments

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman seemingly broke with American policy and got into hot water with his own government when he told an Israeli news site that the settlements are part of Israel proper.

The U.S. State Department distanced itself from Friedman’s remarks.

“His comments — and I want to be crystal clear about this — should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the U.S. would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. “It should also not indicate a shift in U.S. policy.”

In an interview with an Israeli news site Walla! on Thursday, Friedman declared that only 2 percent of the West Bank is occupied and that settlements are part of Israel. He also said the two-state solution, “has largely lost it’s meaning. … It’s not a helpful term, because it just doesn’t mean the same thing to different people.”

His statement sparked angry reaction from Palestinians and rapid clarification and reassurances from U.S. officials.

Nauert could not clarify how much of the West Bank is considered occupied but she implied that other figures that were more representative of American policy such as Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friedman’s statements contradict “international law, United Nations resolutions and also the historical U.S. position.”

“Israel is internationally recognized as the occupying power over 100 percent of Palestine, including in and around occupied east Jerusalem,” Erekat said. “Such positions undermine ongoing efforts toward achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”

In the past, Friedman has referred to the “alleged occupation” of Palestinian territories, another indication that his political views are at odds with U.S. policy.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since then, Palestinians maintain limited autonomy in 40 percent of the area and Israel in full control over the remaining 60 percent.

Palestinians and much of the international community view Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as illegal. UN Resolution 242 calls for the removal of all Israeli forces.

Settlement leaders welcomed Friedman’s comments last week.

“Ambassador Friedman should be commended for using facts to describe the reality” in the West Bank,” the Yesha Council, which represents Jewish settlers across the West Bank, said in a statement.

Friedman also told Walla! that he believes Pres. Trump will move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “and most importantly declare Israel as the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”