No, an American Diplomat Didn’t Encourage Israel to Annex the West Bank

June 13, 2019 | Jonathan Tobin
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Last weekend, news spread that David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Jerusalem, had given a green light to the Netanyahu government to annex parts of the West Bank. In the interview cited by these news stories, however, what Friedman actually said was this: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” Jonathan Tobin explains why such a statement, despite the hysteria it engendered, should be entirely uncontroversial:

[An] important point that was lost in the rush to put words in Friedman’s mouth and to condemn the Trump administration for allegedly overturning decades of U.S. policy: it has been official U.S. policy for more than twenty years that Israel has “the right to retain some” of the West Bank. That was the formula for peace pursued by Washington at the Camp David summit in July 2000 when President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat an independent state in most of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But part of that plan, which Arafat turned down, was that Israeli would retain some of the West Bank. It would be repeated in all future peace negotiations carried out under George W. Bush and even Barack Obama.

Bush put [a version of this formula] in writing in a letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004 prior to the withdrawal from Gaza, in which he assured the Israelis that they could count on U.S. support for holding onto Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs. So the argument that Friedman said something worthy of his being fired—as some [of his critics] have claimed—is as absurd as it is outrageous. . . .

Friedman is . . . willing to say that the West Bank or any other part of the country isn’t “Palestinian territory” but disputed land, and that Israel can assert its rights as well as its security needs in any negotiation. He’s right about that. And he’s also right that the United States is not opposed to Israel’s holding on to at least some of the West Bank in the event of a theoretical peace agreement that the Palestinians clearly have no interest in negotiating, let alone signing.

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