Palestinian ‘leadership problem’ thwarts peace with Israel, warns Friedman

Friedman also took a swipe at presidential candidate Joe Biden, warning “an administration with a different approach could do huge damage” to regional stability.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

While rapid progress is being made with Arab countries that are normalizing ties with Israel, the Palestinian’s “leadership problem” is blocking a peace process that its people wants, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman told The Media Line in an interview published Sunday in The Jerusalem Post.

Friedman was “in the room” when an Israel-U.S. team went last week to Bahrain and the UAE to discuss areas of cooperation between the countries, he said, and “they were almost, if I can say, tripping over each other to come up with more and more ideas about what could be done. The sky is truly the limit, and it’s fun to watch, because … we don’t need to police this or oversee it; they’re doing that on their own.”

The ambassador was also optimistic about Saudi Arabia joining the Abraham Accords as its fellow Gulf states have done.

Pointing to recent positive articles in the Saudi press regarding Israel and the accords, and the opening of its airspace to Israeli planes, he said, “The Saudis have made enormous strides.” He also cautioned that “they should follow their own internal timeline. We’re not pushing. This is all organically going forward.”

He then compared the warmth from Arab Gulf states to the current Palestinian intransigence.

“I think the Palestinians are sort of in one of those final stages of denial. It’s hard to watch. It’s completely self-defeating,” he said, calling it “a leadership problem.”

America has “given more money to the Palestinians compared to any other nation by a power of at least five compared to every other country. So, we’ve got nothing to apologize for in terms of our assistance to the Palestinians. But it just can’t be a bridge to nowhere, and that’s what it is right now.

“The Palestinians want to take, but they’re not willing to really engage in a serious way,” Friedman added, “and not only that, but it’s almost embarrassing the way in which they insult the United States. They express no appreciation for the help that we’ve, by the way, in which we continue to provide under the radar. So it’s really a leadership problem.”

In contrast, the Palestinians on the street will want to join the forward progress due to the Abraham Accords, in Friedman’s view.

“I think that there is a huge peace dividend that will come to the region and I believe the Palestinian people are well-educated, well-informed, and well-meaning, and I think that as they see that peace dividend, I believe like all other people, they’re going to want a part of it.

“It’s all there. They just have to sit down and act in a way which is serious, nonthreatening. Enough of the histrionics. Enough of the tantrums. Just sit down and have civilized discussions on serious issues and there’ll be progress.”

In a nod to the fast-approaching American elections, Friedman was also asked if the administration’s achievements might be “walked back” in the future, specifically in reference to pressure on Iran.

“I think an administration with a different approach could do huge damage,” he answered. “No question about it. The most obvious area would be with regard to Iran. Iran is on the ropes. They are weakened. They’re far weaker now than they were before we let them off the hook with the JCPOA, right? If you let them off the hook again, we will all have to answer to our children and grandchildren as to how we created a terrorist nuclear power, which is what we will do if we let Iran off the ropes right now.”

The Trump administration has acted “in the best interests of the United States,” he said, in all its actions, also enumerating the American embassy move to Jerusalem and recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. “Why would anybody want to undo that? By the same token, why would anybody take the most threatening, malign sponsor of terrorism in the world and fund them?”

Democratic challenger Joe Biden has gone on record saying that he would re-enter the nuclear deal with Iran if elected.