Jerusalem (AFP) – The US ambassador in Tel Aviv has angered Palestinians with a comment downplaying Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank, the second such spat in a month.
In a video interview with Israeli news site Walla, broadcast in full on Friday, ambassador David Friedman said the Jewish state is “only occupying two percent of the West Bank”.
It brought an angry response from Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat after an excerpt from the interview was aired on Thursday evening.
“Israel is internationally recognised as the occupying power over 100 percent of Palestine, including in and around occupied east Jerusalem,” Erekat said.
He said Friedman’s latest comment was “not only false and misleading but contradicts international law, United Nations resolutions and also the historical US position”.
“It is not the first time that Mr David Friedman has exploited his position as US ambassador to advocate and validate the Israeli government’s policies of occupation and annexation,” Erekat added.
– Settler praise –
The Yesha Council, which represents settlers across the occupied West Bank, welcomed the ambassador’s comments.
“Ambassador Friedman should be commended for using facts to describe the reality” in the West Bank, it said in a statement.
It said that the area taken up by settlements and their roads totalled less than two percent of the ground, but it did not refer to the military occupation which covers the entire territory.
Early in September, Friedman caused a stir when in an interview with the Jerusalem Post he referred to the “alleged occupation”.
A US official told AFP then that the ambassador’s comment “does not represent a shift in US policy”.
This time too, the State Department appeared to distance itself from its envoy.
“His comments… should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiation that the US would have with Israel and the Palestinians,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington on…