U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that "Israel shouldn’t have to ask permission from the U.S." to build in the West Bank.
The comment was part of an extensive interview with the envoy that was published in the Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom on Friday.
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According to Friedman, Israel currently presents its construction plans to the Trump administration, which sometimes replies with notes and requests. "If we have an issue with something we say ‘Do we really need to go that far? Can you build close to the existing settlement?’" Friedman said as an example of commentary the administration sometimes gives on Israeli construction plans in the West Bank.
He also noted that the Israeli government recognizes American reservations and takes them into consideration.
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman standing next to the controversial photo, May 22, 2018.Israel Cohen / Kikar Hashabat
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Friedman reiterated President Donald Trump’s opinion that the settlements do not pose an obstacle for peace.
"If the expansion continues unmitigated, there will be much greater limitations regarding the territory it would be possible to give to the Palestinians. So to preserve that option, there needs to be some balance."
When asked how the administration would react of Israel presented a construction plan for an "East Jerusalem Belt," Friedman skirted a direct answer and only noted the plan must serve regional stability and peace.
The U.S. envoy added that contrary to the Obama administration, Trump does not examine every house and neighborhood built in the West Bank. "We receive an encompassing overview and have an understanding of what the overall strategy for development would be," he said, noting that "We conduct talks … We never tell them [the Israeli government] ‘this you have to take out of the list.’"
According to Friedman, the current administration has never challenged an Israeli construction plan in the West Bank.
In light of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the U.S. embassy there, Friedman was asked about the possibility of the U.S. recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. He stated the administration was currently not weighing such an option, but added he "Personally can’t imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is returned to Syria."
Friedman was also asked about Trump’s comment that Israel would have to pay a high price for the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. According to Friedman, the president said "a higher price," which meant "Israel would account the efforts made by the U.S." and reciprocate accordingly, in a similar fashion. "That’s all it means, that we hope Israel will consider the thing from which is benefitted greatly."
However, he added that "there’s nothing expected of Israel to give in return for the embassy move."