The US ambassador to Israel on Thursday said he was misquoted in an Israeli report in which he warned that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could become irrelevant if he keeps shunning the US as a Mideast broker.
In a post on Twitter, David Friedman said the US is “not seeking ‘to replace’ Mahmoud Abbas. It is for the Palestinian people to choose its leadership.”
He also retweeted an apology from the Israeli publication that interviewed him, Shvii.
Israeli reports had quoted Friedman as saying that if Abbas is not interested in negotiating, “I am sure somebody else will” and that “vacuums tend to be filled.”
Palestinian officials had criticized the comments as interference in Palestinian affairs.
Abbas suspended ties after President Donald Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Palestinian anger toward the US has threatened the prospects of a US peace plan being drawn up by the White House.
Earlier this month, Abbas described Friedman as a “son of a dog” due to the ambassador’s close ties to Israel’s West Bank settler movement.
Contentious relations between the Trump administration and Abbas are bound to deteriorate further with incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has said Palestinians would be better off being absorbed by Egypt and Jordan than having their own state.
Meanwhile, US-backed efforts to negotiate a deal sidelining Hamas in the Gaza Strip appear to have collapsed, raising new questions about the territory said to be at the center of any US plan.
Coupled with Abbas’ refusal to engage with the Trump administration, these developments exacerbate fundamental challenges to any proposals coming from Washington.
In recent months, the Trump administration has expressed concern about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and has backed efforts of regional ally Egypt to broker a deal between Abbas and Hamas.