In an interview with The New York Times at his residence, David M. Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, stated that Israel has a right to annex some of the West Bank territory. There are currently three million Palestinians and about 600,000 Jewish settlers living in West Bank. The annexation of illegal Jewish settlements, pursued by Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu, would pose a significant threat to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friedman also accused Palestinian politicians of encouraging businesspeople to boycott an upcoming economic conference in Bahrain where the U.S. is likely to unveil the first part of its peace plan. During the interview, Friedman shared his views on where he thought the blame should be placed regarding the conflict, evaluated the actions and “rights” of the actors involved, and represented the United States with a biased perspective—effectively assigning it to the side of Israel. His commentary threatens a peace agreement and endangers any trust that Palestinians might have in a U.S.-proposed deal.
According to The New York Times,—in defense of his position and the Trump administration’s treatment of the situation—Friedman claimed that a harsh approach to the Palestinians shows that, despite the situation, “the world isn’t going to stop turning,” and that the Palestinians do not, “have a veto on progress.” In the same article for The New York Times, in regards to the peace plan, Friedman stated, “We don’t want to make things worse. Our goal is not to show how smart we are at the expense of people’s safety,” and that, in regards to Israel having some control in West Bank, “having boots on the ground is not antithetical to peace.” In response to the ambassador’s comments, according to Aljazeera, senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat said that if the sentiments outlined in Friedman’s interview were put into law, it would suggest, “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.” According to the same article from Aljazeera, journalist, Nida Ibrahim reporting from Ramallah stated, “We’ve also heard from a statement by Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank, which said that they don’t know if the US ambassador is representing the view of Israeli settlers or that of the US administration.”
In such a precarious situation, in the interest of a promising future for the peace deal: it is essential that the United States remain unbiased in crucial negotiations between countries in order to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Individuals like Friedman should not take sides, interpret which side has more of a claim than the other, or evaluate actions of actors so severely, especially since the peace deal’s presentation is happening soon. While it is true that the “world won’t stop turning” because of this situation, the peace process—especially this one— is delicate and requires careful choice of language and actions. While Friedman’s statements and accusations against the Palestinians may be true, their declaration now is not in the best interest of a successful peace deal. By weighing the claims that Israel and Palestine have to a territory, placing blame, and assessing or condemning the actions of the actors involved, Friedman biases both the United States and the upcoming peace deal in a way that threatens its credibility with Palestine. Even if, as Friedman claims, Israeli presence in the West Bank and the eventual peace deal will not lead to violence, in order to make that deal possible, it must be accepted first. If Palestinians do not have enough faith in the plan, it does not matter whether it would have encouraged safety over all else.
The Jewish settlements in West Bank that Friedman discussed are already seen as illegal by the international community, let alone the annexation of those settlements, an idea which Netanyahu is continuing to entertain. An annexation would lead to more violence and military occupation in the lives of Palestinians. Trump’s peace plan, the first part of which is likely to be explained at the economic conference in Bahrain, will likely focus on helping the Palestinian economy and improving quality of life in Palestinians’ current situation. However, Palestinians do not believe that these topics should be the focus of a plan until the political situation is addressed. Friedman’s comments further endanger a proposed peace plan and threaten a peaceful resolution to the conflict through a potential loss of trust from the Palestinians.
Though the Palestinians are not expected to accept Trump’s peace plan, especially in light of Friedman’s comments, the plan has not yet been proposed. It remains to be seen whether Palestinian businesspeople will attend the economic conference in Bahrain and how the peace deal proposal will be received. It also remains to be determined how Friedman’s comments will affect the situation in West Bank, relations between Israel and Palestine, and the United States’ position in the conflict.