The new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has cast doubt over the creation of an independent Palestinian state, while dismissing the conventional wisdom that Israel will cease to remain a Jewish and democratic state if it annexes all of the occupied West Bank.
Friedman, who arrived to take up his post in Israel on Monday, was captured on video taking issue with the long-held belief of both Israelis and US officials that a two-state solution is necessary to maintain the Jewish and democratic character of Israel. The video shows Friedman giving his support for the annexation of the West Bank during what appears to be an informal dinner.
The ambassador is an Orthodox Jew aligned with the Israeli right-wing, and is seen as a controversial figure. His appointment by Donald Trump was only approved by a small majority during the relevant Senate Committee hearing. He is thought to have suggested that former president Barack Obama is anti-Semitic and has called J Street, a left-wing Jewish organisation which advocates for a two-state solution, “worse than kapos”, a derogatory term for prisoners who supervised the forced labour of their fellow Jews in Nazi concentration camps.
The two-state solution emerged as the international consensus after the partition of Palestine by the UN in 1947. Israel’s continued annexation of Palestinian territory is illegal under international law, and the two-state solution is seen by many supporters as the only way to ensure that it remains a Jewish state.
Referring to the all of the territory from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea as “the state of Israel”, Friedman dismisses the conventional belief saying that you can take the entire state of Israel, annex all of Judea and Samaria (the name used by Israeli extremists for the West Bank) into Israel and still remain a Jewish state. “The idea that you need to jettison Judea and Samaria to retain the Jewish characteristic of Israel is not true,” he argued.
In his reasoning, Friedman mentioned that while he disapproved of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, it had the salutary effect of removing more than two million people from any future demographic equation. Referring constantly to the Palestinians as Arabs, which is a common feature of those who deny Palestinian identity and self-determination, he disputed the number of them currently living in the West Bank. According to him, ten different statisticians will proffer ten different answers. Indeed, he speculates that the Palestinian population is going down because they are leaving their homes in the West Bank. He also assumes a lower birth rate than the Jewish settlers in the occupied territory.
Ambassador Friedman has said that he will put aside his personal views to enforce US policy, and that remains to be seen. Notwithstanding his claim, though, he believes that the complete annexation of the West Bank would still keep Jews, with 65 per cent of the population, as the majority within an enlarged Israeli state whose still undeclared borders would far exceed those recognised under international law and, indeed, the 1947 UN Partition Plan through which many Israelis claim their state’s legitimacy.