West Bank settlements do not need to be uprooted, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told visitors to his Jerusalem office – on the same day the Trump administration warned that its peace deal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would leave both sides dissatisfied.
“There is no reason to evacuate settlements,” Friedman told the group, according to MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) who was at the meeting, along with South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damri and Palestinian businessman Muhammed Nasser.
Glick clarified that he was not Friedman’s spokesman, but he was left with the impression that Friedman was “fed up with programs of separation. He said, ‘we have to find new perspectives.’”
The US Embassy said it had “no comment” on the report.
Friedman has long been a supporter of the settlement movement. The statement attributed to him, however, falls in line with other speculative reports that the US peace deal, which may not be rolled out until mid-November, could allow for the settlements to remain in Area C of the West Bank.
The Obama administration had held that Israel must withdraw to the pre-1967 lines in any final status resolution, barring some minor modifications for land swaps. It had a no-tolerance policy toward settlements and held that they were an obstacle to peace.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, has held a more tolerant attitude toward the settlements. It has not appeared to hold to the distinctions between settlement blocs and isolated settlements.
The meeting in Friedman’s office was a part of that new perspective. At that meeting, Damri and Glick sought support from Friedman for two joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial parks in the South Hebron Hills region of Area C, located next to the Negev in what had previously been considered an isolated area beyond the route of Israel’s security barrier.
The project, which has already been submitted to the Civil Administration, has the financial backing of both the settler and the Palestinian business community. It would also include a medical center that would jointly serve Israelis and Palestinians.
“We are talking about a project between Israeli settlers and Palestinian businessmen who are going to develop it together for both populations and they will be raising the funds,” Glick said.
“The population here in Judea and Samaria understands that no one is going anywhere. We do not choose our neighbors, but we are here,” Glick said, adding that neither “the settlers nor the Palestinians will be disappearing so fast.”
Representatives of the project hoped to secure US support out of an understanding that the Trump administration has focused in particular on the idea of “economic peace.”
After the meeting, Damri said that Friedman represented a new spirit of US-Israeli relations, in contrast to past officials who pushed for futile solutions.
“The country is bleeding” and carries “painful scars” from those failed initiatives, Damri said.
“Happily, reality has changed in our favor. Today there are people in the White House and in the embassy who really care about the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Damri said.
A US Embassy official said, “As a general matter, we support commercial and humanitarian projects that advance peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.”
But with regard to the South Hebron Hills project, the official said that, “we have not reviewed and thus cannot comment on the specific proposal in question.”•