U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during its annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., in late March. (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Palestinians: Annexing West Bank a War Crime

Reactions follow comment by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman that Israelis have ‘right’ to sovereignty over some West Bank lands

United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is once again causing an uproar among Palestinian officials, who view Washington as biased and a dishonest broker in mediating the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In an interview with The New York Times published on Saturday, Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank by Israel would be legitimate.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.

According to Friedman, Israel would also need to maintain a military presence in the West Bank even after a peace agreement is reached. He likened Israeli forces stationed in Palestinian territories to American bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany.

Palestinian officials responded swiftly to Friedman’s remarks.

“These comments are contrary to and in violation of international law because these are occupied land,” Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told The Media Line.

Fatah spokesman Munir Al-Jaghoub also condemned Friedman’s comments, telling The Media Line that the U.S. had adopted entirely the Israeli position.

“Do the statements made by the U.S. ambassador reflect Washington’s official stance or is [he] trying to upstage the settlers’ position in Israel?” Jaghoub wondered, adding that for decades, US administrations had “sponsored the peace process based on international legitimacy and on the principle of land for peace.”

Other Palestinian officials said the US envoy’s remarks were another clear example that he was speaking on behalf of the Israeli government.

“This is an Israeli Zionist ambassador, like his boss. They are Zionists who unjustly support Israel,” Abdelmonem Hamdan, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told The Media Line, referring to both Friedman and US President Donald Trump.

“They have gone beyond the historical and legitimate right of the Palestinian people with their statements,” Hamdan said.

Yet the State Department seemed to distance itself from the ambassador’s remarks.

“The administration position on settlements has not changed,” it said in a statement, stressing that “no plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the U.S., nor is it under discussion.”

Friedman, a staunch supporter of Israeli settlement enterprise, blamed the Palestinian leadership for failing to achieve peace, saying the Palestinian Authority had a “very, very poor track record on human rights” and that “the Palestinian leadership is really the difficulty right now.”

These accusations were vehemently rejected by Dr. Wasel Abu Yousef, a PLO official who told The Media Line that these statements aimed at “liquidating” the Palestinian cause.

“These steps by the U.S. administration will make it impossible for a two-state solution that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state,” Abu Yousef said.

The public dispute between Palestinian leaders and the U.S. Middle East negotiating team isn’t new. Relations between Washington and Ramallah turned sour at the end of 2017, following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In a speech, PA President Mahmoud Abbas once called Friedman a “son of a dog.” The U.S. ambassador said that such hostility could not be overlooked.

Friedman complained that the PA was applying pressure on Palestinians not to attend the U.S.-led Bahrain economic “workshop” later this month. The conference is aimed at setting up economic initiatives as a first step of the Trump Administration’s long-awaited Palestinian-Israeli peace process, dubbed the “deal of the century.”

“This is like throwing sand in [one’s] eyes,” Abu Yousef said, adding that “the position of the Palestinian leadership, people and private sector is unified regarding the so-called deal of the century in both of its tracks, the political and economic.”

Palestinians insist that the peace process is on life support, adding that these remarks are “inflammatory” and tantamount to pulling the plug, officially killing it.

“The Trump Administration has no intention of reaching a fair and just solution to the conflict,” Hamdan said.

Friedman’s remarks echoed those made by another senior White House official. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast advisor, last week blamed massive US financial cuts on “decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership.”

Palestinian leaders are boycotting the Bahrain conference, PA Minister of Social Development Ahmad Majdalani told The Media Line last month.

“There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop,” he said. “Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel.”

Barghouti went farther.

“This proves that the deal of the century is a blueprint for the liquidation of the Palestinian issue and the legitimization of settlements,” he told The Media Line. “These statements mean nothing. America is working for Israel and it is wrong to bet on [the success of the peace process].”

According to Barghouti, Friedman’s words served as further proof that the U.S. had never been an honest mediator to the conflict, adding further incentive to boycott the meeting in Bahrain.

It is not clear whether any of the political aspects of the peace plan – which is expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state – will be unveiled at the conference.

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