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US envoy: Israel can reject Trump peace plan for 'legitimate reasons'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Friedman, the United States Ambassador to Israel attend a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem on May 21, 2017.
Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman warned the Palestinians on Wednesday that a rejection of President Donald Trump's peace plan would not be well received by Washington, but said it would be acceptable for Israel to reject the plan for "legitimate" reasons.

In an interview with Israel's Hadashot TV, Friedman confirmed speculation that Trump's long-gestating proposal to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would be unveiled within the next few months.

Asked what price Trump might exact if his proposal is rebuffed, Friedman said: "If the response is 'we can’t do this because here are four or five legitimate reasons why it doesn’t work’ I wouldn’t imagine there would be any consequences at all."

"We respect, certainly, Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to speak to us candidly about what they can and can’t live with and we respect that," he added in the first interview to be conducted in the freshly opened US embassy in Jerusalem.

However Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table under aegis of Trump's plan would exact fury from the Oval Office, Friedman suggested.

"I think if the Palestinians don’t sit down, refuse to come to the table, I can’t imagine that would be well received in the White House and certainly we would express our dismay with that conduct," he said.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

He said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not aware of the contents of the mooted plan, but that due to a "common view of some of the things that are essential to Israel’s security" he doesn't think "there will be any surprises" in it for the Israeli premier.

The interview was broadcast just hours after a spokesman for Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said the US plan “will be doomed to failure as long as it does not enjoy Palestinian approval and does not comply with United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian issue."

Soon after coming to office last year, Trump assigned his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and attorney Jason Greenblatt for thrashing out a plan to resume moribund Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

However the Palestinian leadership cut off ties with Trump's negotiators after the decision to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Ramallah has since repeatedly accused the White House of taking Israel's side in the decades-long dispute.

Friedman insisted that the US remains an honest broker and noted that no country "comes close" to American aid money doled out the PA over the years.

"I think that if we are able to propose something over the next few months that offers a better, more optimistic, more promising future to the Palestinian people ... I believe if people are interested in this [the Palestinian leadership] will have no choice but to pursue it," Friedman said in the interview, the full recording of which was made available to i24NEWS.

AP Photo

Saying Netanyahu will hear the plan when "everybody else does" Friedman told Hadashot: "We listen carefully to the PMs needs, concerns and requirements and I think that he understands that we understand some of the red lines, some of the critical needs of Israel."

He added that he was "more mortified than any Palestinian" after a picture of him was published standing next to an altered portrait of Jerusalem in which the Dome of the Rock had been replaced with a rebuilt Jewish temple.

He also hit back at criticism that the decision to open to the new US embassy in Jerusalem so close to Nakba day (when Palestinians mourn the events surrounding the creation of Israel) helped contribute the violence which saw more than 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire.

Friedman argued that Gaza's rulers, Hamas, were looking for an excuse to escalate the clashes with Israel, calling it a "dangerous" public relations stunt.

The militant group "put innocent people in harm’s way knowing they would be injured or worse for the media coverage," Friedman charged. "They got what they wanted and people died because of that."

Earlier this week he accused media outlets of falling for Hamas' "lies" in their reporting of the events, which sparked an international outcry and a UN war crimes investigation.

Israel and a Hamas official have said that most of the dead belonged to the group and that soldiers only opened fire according to strict regulations.

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