US ambassador: Israel has right to annex 'some' of West Bank

US ambassador: Israel has right to annex 'some' of West Bank
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U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he believes Israel has the right to annex “some” of the West Bank, a remark likely to deepen opposition from critics of the administration's coming Middle East peace plan.

“Under certain circumstances,” Friedman told The New York Times in an interview published Saturday, “I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE promised to begin annexing settlements in the West Bank in April during his reelection campaign in a bid to gin up support among right-wing voters.

The move would likely infuriate Palestinian opposition. Critics say the settlements are in violation of international law and that annexing them would only exacerbate an already tenuous situation on the ground.

Israeli officials have also warned that annexing parts of the West Bank could incite violence and force the military to occupy urban areas in the territory.

“We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves,” Friedman told the Times when asked how the U.S. would respond if Netanyahu were to move forward with the annexation plan. “These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.” 

“Certainly Israel’s entitled to retain some portion of it,” he added.

Palestinians maintain they must have full control over the West Bank in a potential two-state solution and say that settlements infringe on the territorial integrity of a possible future nation.

Friedman was a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements prior to his nomination to the ambassadorship. He told the Times that there’s “more blame on the Palestinian side” over the failure to reach a solution to the conflict.

“The Palestinian leadership is really the difficulty right now,” he argued, adding that Israel has “made its own mistakes.” 

The statements come ahead of the Trump administration’s expected unveiling later this month of portions of its long-awaited peace plan, which will first focus on economic development in the West Bank before moving on to a second phase of a political agreement.

Palestinian leaders have already rejected the plan, pointing to moves such as the White House’s recognizing Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel and slashing aid to the Palestinian Authority as evidence that Washington is not an honest broker in negotiations.