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May 17, 2017 2:12 pm

New US Ambassador to Israel: Trump Administration Will Not Demand a Settlement Freeze

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US Ambassador David Friedman meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Photo: Screenshot / GPO via Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

The Trump administration will not demand that the Jewish state freeze settlement construction, according to new US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

In an interview with Israel Hayom that was published on Wednesday, Friedman played down any expectations that President Donald Trump would unveil a fresh peace initiative during his visit to Jerusalem next week.

“I am fairly confident that the president will not come to Israel with any particular plan or road map or with any specifics on peace,” Friedman said. “I think he has made it clear that what he really wants to see at the beginning is for the parties to meet with each other without preconditions and to begin a discussion that would hopefully lead to peace.”

“The United States is not going to impose upon the parties its views of how to live together,” he continued. “They are going to come up with that on their own.”

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Trump’s approach to the Middle East, Friedman — who arrived in Israel on Monday — noted, marked a “dramatic shift from the policies of the Obama administration. There won’t be anyone leading from behind. I think the region suffered because the US failed to take the lead. That is a path that he intends to correct right away.”

“I don’t want to speak for the president on something that he might do in the future,” Friedman went on to say. “If you look at what the president has said since taking office about settlements, his position has been remarkably different than 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 with the Israelis to come up with a common understanding about how they might proceed.”

“As you can see,” he added, “in contrast to what happened in 2009, when Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton demanded a complete settlement freeze and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] 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.”

Regarding the potential move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a Trump campaign promise — Friedman stated, “I know the president is working on this and is thinking about it. He is consulting with all the appropriate people … and he will make a decision. It is his decision, not mine, and I am going to let him make it. I am not shy about offering my opinion when asked, even when not asked. But my opinion is one of many. It is the president’s job to listen to all those opinions and do what is right for the US.”

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