TEL AVIV – While not explicitly endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Tuesday said the Trump administration’s long-anticipated peace proposal promotes “Palestinian autonomy” and “civilian self governance.”
In an interview with CNN, the U.S. envoy lauded Israel’s approval of the construction of 700 housing units for Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
“We think it’s good for Israel and good for the Palestinians. It’s a matter of real significance and importance to us to improve the quality of life,” he said.
Friedman declined to say whether the peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century,” would be based on the two-state solution, which previous American administrations have endorsed.
“We haven’t used that phrase, but it’s not because we are trying to drive toward a one-state solution,” he said. “The issue we have is agreeing in advance to a state because the word state conjures up with it so many potential issues that we think it does a disservice to us to use that phrase until we can have a complete exposition of all the rights and limitations that would go into Palestinian autonomy.”
He added that the task of protecting Israel’s security needs was “daunting.”
“We believe in Palestinian autonomy, we believe in civilian self-governance, we believe that autonomy should be extended up until the point where it interferes with Israeli security and it’s a very complicated needle to thread,” said Friedman.
He added that last month’s economic peace conference in Bahrain, in which the $50 billion economic portion of the plan was unveiled, was an attempt to “help the Palestinians create some of the institutions necessary for statehood.”
“Because let’s be clear, the last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state in between Jordan and Israel, and right now the Palestinian government is so weak,” Friedman said.
He also pointed to late former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, whom he described as a “great Israeli hero” who “gave his life to the cause of peace,” but who never endorsed Palestinian statehood.
“And when Yitzhak Rabin spoke to the Knesset to sell the Oslo Accords, he also was unwilling to use the term Palestinian state. He preferred words like autonomy and self governance. Because that word, I think it just creates expectations — you know, cause[s] everybody to retreat to their corners and it’s not helpful.”
Asked about comments he made last month in an interview published by The New York Times hinting at Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank, Friedman said, “I don’t know, the question was put to me hypothetically.”
“Israel has not presented to us any plan to maintain or annex any portion of the West Bank and we have no view on it, all right? My view was a legal one whether Israel has the legal right to maintain, under some circumstances, some portion of the West Bank,” he continued. “The answer is yes, but it’s a hypothetical question, but more importantly it’s a legal question. And this is not a conflict that is going to be resolved in a court of law. It has to be resolved diplomatically. So I think much more was made of that than it really is worth.”