US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman declared, “The settlers view themselves as Israelis, and Israel views the settlers as Israelis.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in an interview Thursday he believes that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, the so-called “settlements,” are “part of Israel.”
In an expansive interview with Israeli media outlet Walla!, Friedman provided insight into the direction the US envisions for Israel as it navigates shifting alliances in the region and its approach to resolving the Palestinian conflict.
Among the topics Friedman addressed were Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
“I think the settlements are part of Israel,” Friedman said, which “was always the expectation when [UN] Resolution 242 was adopted.” he added.
“The 1967 borders were viewed by everybody as not secure. There was always supposed to be some expectation of [Israeli] expansion” into Judea and Samaria, “and I think that’s exactly what, you know, Israel has done. I mean, they’re only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank,” he said.
Judea and Samaria are home to some 500,000 Israelis living in about 250 communities.
Friedman referred to the “important nationalistic, historical, and religious significance” of Judea and Samaria, commenting, “I think the settlers view themselves as Israelis, and Israel views the settlers as Israelis.”
When asked about the prospects for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Friedman reiterated that it was a question of “when, not if,” and stressed that “most importantly [the US would] recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the state of Israel and of the Jewish people.”
In discussing the broader geopolitical landscape for Israel in the future, Friedman identified “more interest and flexibility in the Arab world generally,” commenting that “there are natural alliances between Israel and the Gulf, and Egypt and Jordan, that didn’t exist ten years ago and those are going to be an important factor in contributing to opportunities.”
“We’ll try to get it done right, not done fast,” Friedman added in response to a question about the Trump administration’s timeline for peace.
Two-State Solution ‘Lost Its Meaning’
When pressed on the fate of the “two-state solution,” Friedman responded, “Conceivably I think that phrase has largely lost it’s meaning … it’s not a helpful term because it just doesn’t mean the same thing to different people.” Friedman concluded, “The solution comes first, then we deal with the label.”
Friedman’s statements come as the Trump administration has been looking to restart negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. This week, Trump’s special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt visited the region again.
While Friedman didn’t give a firm timeline for a proposed peace plan to go public, he believes it could be announced “within months.”
Just hours after Friedman’s remarks were published, the US State Department sought to clarify positions it apparently sees as diverging from the administration’s stance.
Spokesperson Heather Nauert stated that Friedman’s comments should “not be read as a shift in US policy.”
“I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed,” she emphasized. ”I want to be crystal clear.”
In September, in a video published by Israel’s Channel 2, Friedman – in agreement with former Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, an expert on US-Israel relations and the Middle East, among others – challenged the widespread claim by advocates of a two-state solution that annexing Judea and Samaria would pose a demographic threat to the Jewish state. “Right now, 75% of the population within the Green Line is Jewish. There are 400,000 Jews in Judea and Samaria, as well as another 400,000 in eastern Jerusalem… the Arab birthrate is declining,” Friedman said.
During his campaign, President Donald Trump stated that Israel should move forward and continue building in Judea and Samaria, considering the current situation in the Middle East.