The righteous shall inherit the land, and abide forever in it. (Psalm 37: 29)
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman set off a firestorm on Sunday when he tweeted, “The application of Israeli law to the territory which the [U.S. peace] Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion [of] a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee. Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the Plan & American recognition.”
Much ado was made about the tweet and how it was a threat directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There are some who have tried to make it seem as if Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump are now on bad terms and that Netanyahu has failed his constituency because he is unable to deliver on annexing the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria. The reality, however, is far different, and Friedman has outright denied such assertions.
Speaking at a special briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, titled “The Trump Plan: A Changing Diplomatic Paradigm for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Friedman clarified his tweet.
“It wasn’t a threat,” he said. “It was to let people know where we stand.”
“We [the United States and Israel] might have had some differences in timing, but it became clear in very short order that we were on the same page,” he added.
In what seemed to be remarks aimed at members of the Yesha Council and parties to the right of Likud who are pushing Netanyahu to annex parts of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley before Israel’s March 2 elections, Friedman warned that “if the president’s position is ignored then we will not be in a position to move forward.”
The ambassador began his remarks by saying that protecting Israel’s security is “by far the most important issue” and “is very much an American interest.”
While American support for Israel “comes from the heart,” he said, “over the last five to 10 years, it also comes from the head.”
He acknowledged the need to approach the issue of security “with humility.” He emphasized that there is no way to predict the future, and cited the 1995 negotiations centered around giving the Golan Heights to Syria as a grim example.
“Security is not a game; it is not a political issue,” said Friedman.
He said that Israel cannot accept an international force, “and neither would the U.S.” He pointed to past attempts to use international forces to provide protection for Israel—all of which failed.
“International forces don’t work,” he said.
Friedman also dismissed the idea that U.S. troops might take responsibility.
“We are not prepared to do that,” he said. “Israel doesn’t want it either, because I think the best way to jeopardize the relationship between the U.S. and Israel would be to have American soldiers dying on Israeli soil.”
Friedman rejected out of hand the idea that Jews would need to be evacuated from Judea or Samaria communities to make way for a negotiated peace, calling such evacuations “inhumane” and ineffective.
“We learned from the past that evacuations are inhumane, they do not work and they place tremendous stress upon the fabric of Israeli society,” he said. Referring to the 2005 Gaza disengagement, Friedman said, “We saw the trailer before. The trailer was pretty ugly. We’re not anxious to see the movie.”
Friedman also addressed the issue of borders.
“The notion that the 1949 armistice lines are anything other than armistice lines is something that we frankly never understood,” he said. “We do accept that there are several million people living in Judea and Samaria who claim not to accept Israeli rule, whose lives are sub-optimal and who deserve better.”
Responding to those who claim the Trump plan splits the proposed Palestinian state into unconnected parts, Friedman noted that he spent 35 years commuting from Long Island to Manhattan through the Midtown Tunnel. It was easy to forget, he said, that the tunnel ran under water.
Connectivity is what matters, said Friedman, not what things look like from the air.
“We have created the prospects of a state with connectivity,”he said. “There will be a means of going north to south, east to west.”
Friedman outlined the conditions the United States deems necessary to achieve Palestinian statehood.
In addition to requiring an end to “Pay-for-Slay” (the Palestinian practice of paying terrorists and their families), incitement and other malign activities, “there needs to be a system of laws in place that protects human rights,” said Friedman. “Why? Because at the end of the day, those are the only societies that last. And we are not putting our fingerprints on any new state that does not have those characteristics.”
Responding to a question on why the Palestinians have four years under the U.S. proposal to build the foundations for a viable state, Friedman said, “The Palestinian people should understand that America stands with them and their desire … to achieve a democratic and more prosperous state. To us [the U.S.], it was important to go to the Palestinians and say, ‘we understand you are not ready yet. Take your time. Digest it. And you will not be penalized by the passage of time. The territory that is earmarked for you will be preserved.’”
Friedman concluded by saying he hopes that when the dust settles, “people will understand that Israel has made a firm offer to more than double the Palestinian territory and create a Palestinian state on specific terms, conditions and specific territorial dimensions that no one has seen in 52 years … This is an enormous step forward. I congratulate the Israeli government on having the courage to move forward on this matter.”
“More importantly,” he said, this demonstrates to the world that “Israel is not seeking to subjugate another people, but is also not prepared to commit suicide.”
“This plan is not a gift to a political leader,” he said. “This is a gift to Israel, a gift to the Palestinians and a gift to the region. It works for everyone … Let’s just give it time … Stay tuned.”