TEL AVIV – President Donald Trump will not push for a freeze on settlement construction as a prerequisite for peace talks, the new U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Wednesday.
“We have no demand for a settlement freeze,” Friedman said in an interview with Israel Hayom. He added that the Trump administration does not believe that a moratorium on settlement construction will advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“As you can see, in contrast to what happened in 2009, when secretary [of state Hillary] Clinton demanded a complete settlement freeze and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas still didn’t show up to negotiate, here we have no demand for a settlement freeze and Abbas is prepared to meet with the prime minister of Israel without any preconditions,” he stated.
Regarding Trump’s visit to the country next Monday, Friedman said he didn’t think Trump would come with specific proposals to jumpstart negotiations.
“I am fairly confident that the president will not come to Israel with any particular plan or road map or with any specifics on peace,” Friedman said. “I think he has made it clear that what he really wants to see at the beginning is for the parties to meet with each other without preconditions and to begin a discussion that would hopefully lead to peace.”
“The United States is not going to impose upon the parties its views of how to live together,” he continued. “They are going to come up with that on their own.”
Trump’s approach to the conflict marks a “dramatic shift from the policies of the Obama administration. There won’t be anyone leading from behind. I think the region suffered because the U.S. failed to take the lead. That is a path that he intends to correct right away.”
“I don’t want to speak for the president on something that he might do in the future,” Friedman went on to say. “If you look at what the president has said since taking office about settlements, his position has been remarkably different than the Obama administration’s. He has not come out and said that settlements are an obstacle to peace; he has not called for a settlement freeze; he has worked with the Israelis to come up with a common understanding about how they might proceed.”
Regarding a possible embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Friedman said, “I know the president is working on this and is thinking about it. He is consulting with all the appropriate people … and he will make a decision. It is his decision, not mine, and I am going to let him make it. I am not shy about offering my opinion when asked, even when not asked. But my opinion is one of many. It is the president’s job to listen to all those opinions and do what is right for the U.S.”