JERUSALEM (JTA) — Evicting hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers from the West Bank “could lead to civil war in Israel,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told American Jewish leaders.
His remarks were first tweeted and reported on Israel’s Channel 10 by journalist Barak Ravid, who said he received the remarks from three participants at the meeting.
Friedman spoke Monday night during an off-the-record briefing in Jerusalem for about 100 American Jewish leaders at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations.
The U.S. Embassy and the Presidents Conference disputed the report.
“We have seen the reports on the off-the-record address held with Ambassador David Friedman. The words attributed to him were taken out of context, are incomplete, and are therefore a distortion of the ambassador’s remarks,” Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman and CEO, respectively, of the Presidents Conference, said in a statement.
An embassy spokesman said in a statement: “The Channel 10 report is based upon three attendees at the conference who failed to provide much of the context behind Ambassador Friedman’s comments as well as significant additional and related remarks by the Ambassador.
“Ambassador Friedman made clear in his remarks that the President is committed to a comprehensive peace agreement that benefits both Israelis and Palestinians and that the U.S. is working on a plan to achieve that goal. As for settlements, the Ambassador believes that unrestrained settlement growth is not helpful for peace.”
According to Channel 10, Friedman also said that “the settlers aren’t going anywhere,” and this was his personal opinion. While serving as a lawyer for Donald Trump before his election, Friedman was a generous supporter of Beit El, a West Bank settlement.
He added that it could be more difficult to have the Israeli military evacuate settlements since members of the national-religious sector have taken more senior positions in the Israel Defense Forces and believe that God promised the land to the Jewish people.
According to the report, Friedman said the claim that a peace treaty is needed to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is unfounded, and supported Israel’s claim that it must hold on to the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement for security reasons.
Friedman also criticized the Palestinian leadership.
“They have not shown that they are capable of building institutions that will allow them to live in peace with their neighbors,” he reportedly said. “We must look at the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians not as a marriage but as a divorce.”