JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the United States was not looking to “replace” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and that reports implying he said otherwise misquoted him.
On Wednesday, the Religious-Zionist newspaper Shevii released excerpts of an interview with Friedman to be published on Friday in which the ambassador is quoted as saying, “If Abu Mazen is not interested in negotiating, I am sure that someone else will want to. If Abbas creates a vacuum, I am convinced that someone else will fill it, and then we will move forward” with the peace process.
Some interpreted those remarks as a call for Abbas to be replaced.
“So now it’s regime change time in Palestine? Great way to promote peace!” Martin Indyk, a former U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, tweeted sarcastically in response.
On Thursday, Friedman clarified his comments in a tweet.
“I was misquoted in various reports stemming from an interview that was published today. The United States is not seeking ‘to replace’ Mahmoud Abbas. It is for the Palestinian people to choose its leadership,” the tweet said.
Abbas’ five-year term as head of the Palestinian Authority ended in 2009. No new elections have been called and he remains in his post.
Abbas cut ties with Friedman and U.S. peace negotiators in December, when President Donald Trump reegnized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said he would move the U.S. Embassy there. The embassy move is slated to take place next month.
The Trump administration reportedly has delayed the announcement of a Middle East peace plan over this move.
Earlier this month, Abbas underwent a checkup at a hospital in the United States amid reports that he is in ill health. He turned 83 this week.
In the Shevii interview, Friedman also responded to a speech by Abbas in which the Palestinian leader, citing Friedman’s past personal support for the settler movement, called the ambassador a “son of a dog.”
“He did a disservice to his people,” Friedman said. “[T]hose types of comments are very undiplomatic and make it more difficult for the U.S. to have serious conversations about serious issues. Calling me names is not going to improve the situation of the Palestinians.”