World

US Ambassador: Israel occupies just 2 percent of West Bank

JERUSALEM — The US ambassador to Israel raised eyebrows on Thursday by saying that Israel occupies a tiny percent of the West Bank — just 2 percent — and that settlements there are part of the Jewish state proper.

The comments angered Palestinians and are at odds with decades of US policy in the Mideast.

‘‘I think the settlements are part of Israel,’’ American Ambassador David Friedman said in an interview with the Israeli news site Walla.

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He refrained from answering when asked if settlements would be removed in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

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‘‘They [Israelis] are only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank,’’ he said.

Israel captured the West Bank in the Six-Day War. The Palestinians have limited autonomy in 40 percent of the area, with Israel in full control over the remaining 60 percent. Palestinians demand the West Bank as part of a future state.

The Palestinians, along with much of the international community, view Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disputes this, saying the fate of the settlements must be resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians.

‘‘Obviously, there is important security considerations to those settlements, there’s important nationalistic, historical and religious significance to those settlements and I think the settlers view themselves as Israelis, and Israel views the settlers as Israelis,’’ Friedman said.

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Nabil Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, responded in a video clip on Twitter that the US ambassador had displayed ‘‘absolute ignorance of facts, of law, and of the position of the United States.’’

Friedman’s remarks are ‘‘very bad news for the future of any American attempt to make peace in the Middle East,’’ Shaath added.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Friedman’s comments ‘‘false and misleading.’’ He said in a statement that ‘‘such positions undermine ongoing efforts toward achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine,’’ based on 1967 borders.

Friedman is a member of President Trump’s team spearheading efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Associated Press