NEW YORK — U.S. Envoy to Israel David Friedman has once again stoked Palestinian Authority anger by shining the light of accuracy on key Israeli-Palestinian issues, ignoring Palestinian misinformation and declaring that so-called Israeli settlements are “a part of Israel.”
Friedman further dared to say out loud what everybody living in reality in the region quietly recognizes – that the so-called two-state solution “is not a helpful term” and “has largely lost its meaning.”
Here are some key points made by Friedman in his interview with Israel’s Walla news website, together with facts assembled by this reporter documenting Friedman’s charges.
1 – So-called settlements are “part of Israel.”
“I think the settlements are part of Israel,” Friedman explained. “I think that was always the expectation.”
Friedman said that he sees “important security… nationalistic, historical and religious significance to those settlements; and I think the settlers view themselves as Israelis, and Israel views the settlers as Israelis.”
Settlements refer to Israeli communities in the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem. The West Bank houses ancient Jewish cities like Hebron — home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Judaism’s second holiest site — Beit El, Shiloh, and other areas. Eastern Jerusalem includes the Jewish Quarter in the Old City as well as the Western Wall and Temple Mount, the holiest sites in Judaism.
To deny that “settlements” are a part of Israel is to refuse Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, Temple Mount, and important Jewish cities and holy sites.
Jews maintained a historic presence in Jerusalem, including in the eastern sections, until they were forced to leave the Old City en masse in 1948. Jews also lived in West Bank cities like Hebron for thousands of years off and on. Hebron is home to the oldest Jewish community in the world. Jews lived there until April 1936, when British authorities evacuated the city’s Jews following mass murders by Arabs.
2 – The international community intended for Israel to retain some settlements.
“When Resolution 242 was adopted in 1967, it was, and remains today, the only substantive resolution that was agreed to by everybody…, the idea was that Israel would be entitled to secure borders… The 1967 borders were viewed by everybody as not secure,” Friedman explained.
“So Israel would retain a meaningful portion of the West Bank, and it would return that which it didn’t need for peace and security,” Friedman said. “There was always supposed to be some notion of expansion into the West Bank, but not necessarily expansion into the entire West Bank; and I think that’s exactly what Israel has done.”
Friedman is correct. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the binding resolution pertaining to the West Bank, calls on Israel to withdraw under a future final-status solution “from territories occupied” as a result of the 1967 Six Day War. The resolution does not call for a withdrawal from “all territories,” a designation deliberately left out to ensure Israel’s ability to retain some territory for security purposes under a future deal.
The Jewish Virtual Library explains:
The Security Council did not say Israel must withdraw from “all the” territories occupied after the Six-Day War. This was quite deliberate. The Soviet delegate wanted the inclusion of those words and said that their exclusion meant “that part of these territories can remain in Israeli hands.” The Arab states pushed for the word “all” to be included, but this was rejected. They nevertheless asserted that they would read the resolution as if it included the word “all.” The British ambassador who drafted the approved resolution, Lord Caradon, declared after the vote: “It is only the resolution that will bind us, and we regard its wording as clear.”
Also, as the Committee for Accuracy for Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) pointed out in an email blast, international law does not make Israeli settlements illegal:
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, which is relied upon by those who claim the settlements are illegal, does not apply in the case of the West Bank. This is because the West Bank was never under self-rule by a nation that was a party to the Convention, and therefore there is no “partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party,” as Article 2 of the Convention specifies. Moreover, even if it did apply, by its plain terms, it applies only to forcible transfers, and not to voluntary movement. Therefore, it can’t prohibit Jews from choosing to move to areas of great historical and religious significance to them.
3 – Friedman claimed that Israel is “only occupying 2% of the West Bank.”
Here, Friedman should not have used the term “occupying.” Israel considers the West Bank to be “disputed” and not “occupied” territory, with the status of the territories to be determined in future negotiations with the PA.
Regardless, news media outlets are calling Friedman out, claiming that Israel is “occupying” more than two percent.
The Guardian newspaper, for example, claimed:
While the figure of 2% has been used in the past by Israeli officials to define occupation as the physical footprint of settlement buildings, “area C” – the part of the West Bank under Israeli administrative and security control – accounts for 60% of the West Bank.
The first part of the Guardian statement is instructive. Friedman was clearly referring the built-up Jewish communities in the West Bank, which encompass about 2% of the territory. He was not referring to Israeli checkpoints in “area C,” as referenced by the Guardian.
4 – Friedman would not say whether some settlements should be dismantled.
“Wait and see,” was Friedman’s response when asked if some settlements should be required to “go down” under a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Friedman’s sentiments are in keeping with a Bush administration commitment to allow some existing Jewish settlements to remain under a future Israeli-Palestinian deal.
In 2004, just prior to the Gaza evacuation, President Bush issued a declarative letter stating that it is unrealistic to expect that Israel will not retain some Jewish settlements in a final-status deal with the Palestinians.
The letter stated:
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
Elliott Abrams, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy during Bush’s second term, was instrumental in brokering understandings between the U.S. and Israel on settlements. In a June 2009 piece published by the Wall Street Journal, Abrams accused the Obama administration of “abandoning” those U.S.-Israel understandings by taking positions critical of all settlement activity.
There were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank … principles that would permit some continuing growth.
They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.
The prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation – the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank.
For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.
5 – The so-called two-state solution is losing relevance.
Friedman told the Israeli news outlet that the concept “has largely lost its meaning, or at least has a different meaning to different people.”
The two-state solution refers to the creation of a Palestinian state, purportedly to live in peace alongside the Jewish state.
Such a state would be governed by the PA, which routinely incites violence against Israel and uses its official educational and media arms to deny the existence of the Jewish state. The PA is currently engaged in advanced, Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks with Hamas with the aim of creating a unity government with Gaza’s terrorist rulers.
While Friedman is taking heat for criticizing the “two-state solution,” the news media is ignoring that the Palestinians have repeatedly refused successive offers of a state and are solely to blame for the failure of the so-called two-state concept.
Those Israeli offers predate the existence of the modern day “Palestinians.” After Israel was founded in 1948, a military coalition of Arab nations immediately formed to wage war on the new Jewish state. Arab states waged the war after refusing to accept U.N. Resolution 181, which called for the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The Jews immediately accepted the resolution, but the Arabs forthrightly rejected the plan, launching a war to destroy the Jewish state.
The Palestinian Authority has since rejected every Israeli offer of a state. State offers were made at Camp David in 2000, Taba in 2001, the Annapolis Conference in 2007, and more offers were made in 2008. It was recently reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quietly made another such offer in 2014. In each of these cases, the PA refused generous Israeli offers of statehood and bolted negotiations without counter offers.
Friedman’s comments on Thursday were predictably met with consternation from PA officials. Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath referred to Friedman as a “so-called ambassador” and claimed that Trump’s envoy “showed absolute ignorance of facts and laws.”
“It is not the first time that Mr. David Friedman has exploited his position as US ambassador to advocate and validate the Israeli government’s policies of occupation and annexation,” complained senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Thursday’s interview is the latest time Friedman broke rank and dispelled false Palestinian narratives. Earlier this month, he took heat from the Palestinian Authority for busting one of the great myths of the Middle East when he referred to Israel’s “alleged occupation” of so-called Palestinian territories.