J Street is deeply concerned by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s comments to an Israeli news site this week that “settlements are part of Israel” and that Israel is “only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank.” We are glad that the State Department has now clarified that these statements “should not be read as a shift in US policy.”
This clarification is extremely important. If Friedman’s comments were made official US policy, they would represent a massive and extremely dangerous break with decades of bipartisan US opposition to settlement development and expansion.
The US government has always distinguished clearly between the state of Israel and the occupied territory that it controls beyond the Green Line. Eradicating that distinction and normalizing settlements as “part of Israel” would severely damage the prospects for a two-state solution and undermine the United States’ capacity to act as helpful facilitator in reaching a deal to end the conflict. Such a change in policy would strengthen the position of Israel’s settlement movement and rejectionist right.
Ambassador Friedman’s remarks are also a misstatement of the facts on the West Bank, which remains entirely under occupation. Though settlement buildings themselves may physically cover only a small portion of the territory, nearly 40 percent of the West Bank is under the control of Jewish municipalities, local authorities or military control. Roughly 60 percent of the West Bank (Area C) is under total Israeli civil and security control, while an additional 20 percent (Area B) is under official Israeli security control. Israel also retains full control of the movement of goods and people to and from the area run by the Palestinian Authority (Area A).
While the State Department’s clarification is important, it remains unacceptable that the chief American diplomatic representative in Israel continues to misrepresent and undermine long-standing US policy. His statements are a stark reminder of why Friedman’s nomination to be ambassador to Israel faced an unprecedented level of congressional opposition, with a record 46 senators voting against. It is now clear that concerns about Friedman as an official representative of the United States because of his long history of close ideological and financial ties to the settlement movement were well-founded.