One of the major stumbling blocks to renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — the insistence on a halt to Jewish building in Yehudah and Shomron — has been overcome, according to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Speaking for the Trump administration, Friedman said, “We have no demands for a settlement freeze and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas wants to meet Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu without any preconditions.
The statement was made in an interview with Yisrael Hayom on Wednesday.
“As you can see, in contrast to what happened in 2009, when secretary [of state, Hillary] Clinton demanded a complete settlement freeze and Abbas still didn’t show up to negotiate, here we have no demand for a settlement freeze and Abbas is prepared to meet with the prime minister of Israel without any preconditions.
“If you look at what the president has said since taking office about settlements, his position has been remarkably different from the Obama administration’s. He has not come out and said that settlements are an obstacle to peace, he has not called for a settlement freeze; he has worked for the Israelis to come up with a common understanding about how they might proceed,” he added.
Friedman’s remarks indicate that President Trump’s request during the Washington summit last February with Netanyahu to “hold back for a little bit” on building need not be construed as a precondition for peace talks.
However, there has been a somewhat fraught back-and-forth on the issue between the U.S. and Israel since then. After an announcement of 5,500 new housing units over the Green Line approved after the Trump inauguration, Israel has indeed held back. In March, Israel implemented an informal suspension of building, a good-faith gesture, which the White House “welcomed.”
Friedman did seek to lower expectations, however. He said that while Trump is a skilled, pragmatic negotiator, “it does not mean he can produce magic, but he can lead the parties to find common ground, at least in the first stage,” Friedman said.