Palestinian officials are up in arms once again over controversial comments made by a US official. This time, it’s US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
In an interview with the New York Times, published over the weekend, Friedman said that he believed Israel had the right to annex portions of the West Bank — a proposal that, while illegal under international law, has been gaining more traction in Israeli politics in recent months.
“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement Sunday saying it is considering filing a complaint against Friedman at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his comments, describing the ambassador as “a threat to regional peace and security.”
“What reasoning could justify Friedman’s logic that Israel has the right to annex parts of the West Bank? International law prohibits the annexation of a land by force, as well as a reality imposed by occupying powers,” the statement said.
His words are “an extension of the policy of the US administration, which is fully biased towards the occupation and its expansionist colonial policies,” it continued.
During the interview, Friedman went on to accuse Palestinian leaders of “wrongheadedly” putting pressure on Palestinian business leaders to boycott this month’s upcoming US-led “economic workshop” in Bahrain, the New York Times report said.
When asked how the US would respond if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would make good on election promises to annex West Bank land, Friedman responded:
“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. These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”
Friedman also made comments that Israel was “entitled” to portions of the occupied territory, and when asked if the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” included plans for a Palestinian state, he responded: “What’s a state?”
Palestine’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned Friedman’s comments, saying that supporting annexation would signify “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, senior PLO official and a fierce critic of the current US administration, was quoted by Al Jazeera that the US “was justifying land theft,” while Fatah officials stated that they didn’t know “if the US ambassador is representing the view of Israeli settlers or that of the US administration.”
In a piece for Haaretz, Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer wrote that Friedman’s interview shows that the ambassador “is clearly to the right of Netanyahu.” Of the interview, Pfeffer wrote:
So, if anything, Friedman was on his best behavior — for him at least — when he was expertly interviewed last week by David Halbfinger in The New York Times. He was speaking not as a private citizen but as the U.S. ambassador, sitting in his official residence (now moved to Jerusalem). And from his point of view, he was making a concession. Friedman fervently believes Israel has a right to all of the West Bank, but in the interview he was prepared to accept that “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” This was Friedman at his most moderate.
Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, has been a staunch supporter of Israel’s settler movement and has been vocal about his disdain for the two-state solution. Prior to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Friedman was an open supporter of such a move.
Friedman also served as president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva — a nonprofit group that supports the illegal settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, where his name appears on several buildings in the settlement that he had directly funded with his organization.