Transcript of Al-Jazeera Interview with Ambassador David M. Friedman
First Broadcast: June 21, 2019
Abderrahim: Ambassador, thank you very much for doing this interview for being with us on AJ. I wanted to start by talking a little bit about the Manama event, you call it, workshop, as I'm sure you've heard there are people who are wondering why is it not called conference. And some of these people are saying semantics are never innocent. Do you agree that semantics are never innocent.
AMB: 0001:18 No. First of all Thank you for having me. It's great to be with you. i think this probably is a case of semantics I'm not aware of the very difference. Either way, whatever you call it, they said attempt to jump start the Palestinian economy, and I think that's the that's the purpose thats the focus
Abderrahim: what is the broad headline, or the objective, the immediate objective that you expect to come out of.
AMB: 00:01:50 I think a couple of things I think to identify real world initiatives that can begin immediately, or almost immediately to improve the quality of life for Palestinians. Secondarily I think to create the if you will, an ecosystem of interested parties people who have their heart in the right place and have the resources to to contribute to really turning around materially the Palestinian economy. 021818
Abderrahim: Can you talk a little bit about the ABCs for you. what you will be working with. That will have come out of the workshop. To achieve this objective?
AMB: 00023222 Well, look, we start with the premise that the Palestinian economy needs a lot- there's West Bank, unemployment and about 28% obviously much much higher in Gaza. These are conditions that are simply not conducive to creating the type of autonomy the Palestinians wish, you can governor at 28% of the points. And so, in order to change that. You need a lot, you need infrastructure, you better technology, you need better access between the West Bank, and Israel you need better access between Gaza and the West Bank, you need technological advancements of all types. And these are things you put them all together, either two things. Number one, you significantly increase the quality of life. And I think number two you create conditions that are far more conducive to people sitting down at a table negotiating a political outcome.033414
Abderrahim: So for people who will take part in the workshop in Manama What incentives, do you think they have to actually come up with the money or to come up with the investment that's supposed to go into the Palestinian economy as you say.
AMB: 00035127 I think everybody who's there is there for the same reason, creating a more transparent More flourishing more optimistic Palestinian economy Palestinian environment, creates much better dynamics for peace, peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a an outcome that I think many in the region of desire certainly the United States desires I believe Israel desires. So I think everyone is there for the same reason.
Abderrahim: So the Palestinian delegation or the Palestinian Authority will not participate in the workshop how much, how much of a challenge is that for you ?
AMB: 00042815 : it's a significant challenge I think it's a terrible mistake. We have a hard time understanding what possible risks Downside if you will could come from attending a conference where the sole purpose of the conference is to finance infrastructure and other positive projects within the West Bank and Gaza. It's their decision, we have to respect it but there will be a, I believe a significant showing from the Palestinian business community, and we'll work with them as best as we can.
Abderrahim: So, the Palestinian Authority will not attend the workshop. The Israelis will not attend, at least official Israelis. There are people who say that this whole initiative is now stillborn. Do you agree with that?
AMB: 00051711- No, I think that with the Palestinian governments, out of the picture, and make sense to keep the Israelis on the sidelines for this initial conference or workshop as we say, just to make sure that it doesn't become too politicized and there's a perception that Israeli Government is somehow negotiating with other governments against the interests of the Palestinians, I don't think they would have done that but I think it's the right atmosphere, it's the right balance. It'll change I think over time.
Abderrahim: But if the Palestinian Authority is not attending. And then how can the workshop succeeds given that you have designed the workshop as you say specifically to serve the economy of the Palestinians.
AMB: 00060609: Well I don't know that the Palestinian Authority is the last word on the, on how to create a better life for the Palestinians the Palestinians themselves should have a say in that we intend to, you know, be very open and candid with the Palestinian people about what's being proposed the Palestinian Authority I think has a lot to answer for in terms of how they've managed the finances of the Palestinian people. And I think, Palestinians deserve a better opportunity and we're hoping that the, that, you know, as in most countries. The, the people's wills legitimate desires of the people. Ultimately, achieves a political voice,
Abderrahim: So that the Palestinians, and others who support the Palestinians, whether in the Arab world or outside the Arab world are saying that the Manama workshop is designed to replace the principle of land for peace and replace it with money for peace. Is this a concern for you?
AMB : 00071709 It's a concern progress as many times as we say that that's not the case.We keep hearing that from the Palestinian Authority, there's two parts to solving this problem. There's a political part we acknowledge that we have to deal with it the Palestinians have aspirations They have to be addressed -the Israelis have issues they have to be addressed - this conflict needs to be resolved on a political level, but in order to create the momentum to create the space and create the platform for that success. We do need significant improvement in the economy. That's the only way that people on both sides will have faith that there's the opportunity for real peace. I don't need to repeat myself but you can't make peace with a society with 70% unemployment, or even 30% unemployment, because those relationships won't survive under that type of economic pressure
Abderrahim: But it could also there are people who are also wondering, why didn't you start with the political aspect of this since the Palestinians, they say this is about their rights rights and they've been asking for for about 70 years now, and then move on to discuss the economic aspect of the equation.
AMB: 00083311 I think for two reasons number one I think this is fundamental. I think it has to be established and I'm not just talking about you know money for electricity or money for better water facilities. I'm also talking about creating the types of institutions that permit people to have confidence in the legal system and the justice system in the financial systems. It's very hard to produce what the Palestinians want without getting there. So I think it's fundamental in some respects is also easier. Right, because it doesn't invoke any of the you know ancient rivalries of these peoples, and so we think this is the right way to start the momentum, but we've said this over and over again. It's not intended to be replacement for a political discussion.
Abderrahim: So, let's imagine the Palestinians at some point said okay, We'll go along with, starting with the economic phase first and then talk about the politics later on. GAZA the situation in GAZA as, as you know, very dire situation economically, as it is under Israeli blockade Israel, and others such as the United States, consider hamas as a terrible organization, given all these things, how do you propose to pour money into the economy of gaza?
AMB: 1001:28 - Its been a challenge was a past decade is very difficult if you run the risk of empowering Hamas as against the Palestinian Authority which, as between them. I think we all agree, Hamas is a worse actor, you run the risk of of sabotage of various projects, as we've seen in the past. But you have to you have to find ways to to at least create basic opportunities for the people there. Lots of smart people are working on it. We've worked a lot with United Nations on this. It's a really difficult challenge where we have a bunch of ideas, and we're going to keep pursuing them but as long as Hamas which is I think about 30,000 terrorists holds 2 million people hostage, with no freedom of expression, virtually no freedom at all. As long as they're in place is an enormously challenging situation.
Abderrahim: So do we assume, Ambassador that as long as Hamas continues draining Gaza. And, and seeing the way its seen by yourself, and the Israelis, the chances of what you're working on, to succeed is very minimal either economically or politically.
AMB: 00113418- I certainly agree with you that there's no political solution on the horizon with HAMAS there's going to be a political solution it will require the Palestinian Authority will have to become the governing body both in the West Bank and Gaza. There's no question about that. Economically, there's two parts to your question. One is the humanitarian aspects of economic health, which will try as hard as we can for as long as we can in any way that we can to increase electricity to improve the quality of the water, improve the quality of the sewage system to do whatever can be done within the limits of Israelis security needs to make those people happier and healthier, the big picture in terms of a major economic advancement, with Hamas in place. It's very challenging and it's a shame because the same beautiful beachfront u see in Tel Aviv that has spawned so much tourism, so much investment in so much development is exactly the same beach that exists 60 miles to the south and Gaza, there's no good reason why Gaza can't have all that and more and hamas is keeping it from happening.
Abderrahim: So Ambassador talking of Israel, the economic situation is, they have a very good economic situation, and the have basically obtained the recognition of the United States for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They have even got the recognition of the Golan Heights by President Donald Trump as part of Israeli sovereignty. And therefore, there are people who will argue, they've got everything they need, they've got everything they want from you. What's the point of even pursuing now this deal that you are pursuing whether its economic or in its political aspect?
AMB: 00132809 I think Israel has everything it needs it has the recurring conflict in Gaza, which we all know creates significant security risks and disruption. They have, you know, ongoing conflicts with, with the Palestinians generally they have you know 450,000 Jews living in the West Bank whose status is unclear that I think should be cleared up and everyone should have to live under a cloud.You're right about the fact that Israel has a thriving economy, one of the best in the world. One major reason for that -freedom. It's free. It has a transparent economy. It has world class education. And it's a great example for, I think the region, especially for the Palestinians as to why they could do so much better Palestinians are every bit as enterprising creative and intelligent as Israelis, it's not that there's something wrong with the Palestinians, there's something wrong with the government that's holding them back.
Abderrahim: ambassador you said the Israelis are free and because of their freedom they've achieved the economic success that they have achieved that raises the question. A lot of people will be saying well the Palestinians are not free to live under Israeli occupation. And therefore, how do you expect someone who lives under occupation someone who is not free to achieve that potential.
AMB: 00150413 Well, look, first of all the Palestinians have had the opportunity to begin to self govern in areas A and B they have began to establish systems for governance. My point was that those systems are highly fluid. There is no freedom of speech. People are subject to arrest, without noticing without due process. There's no real government incentives to the business. There's a concentration of wealth in favor of the political elites against the, the average person. And so those are those who I think are in this lesson, I think the situation right now is certainly suboptimal, the Palestinians are living in a, in a state of limbo. It's, it's, there's lots of reasons for it we don't need to go with all the reasons we might not even agree on all the reasons but whatever those reasons are we all agree they should be improved and ideally to be fixed. So I do agree with you that the Palestinians will do better, under different circumstances and better circumstances. I also think that that begins with what's happening in Manama
Abderrahim: Ambassador, there are people who will say there are other countries in the neighborhood countries that are allies in the United States, they are not free, and they are states they have their own independence though. Why can't that apply to the Palestinians, give them their political rights, and then they can discuss the issue the economy with you.
AMB: 00164920 The answer is. In short, the risks are too high. I've said this before the last thing, the region needs, whether it's Israel, Jordan, Egypt, or anyone. The last thing anyone needs is a failed Palestinian state between Israel and the Jordan River. It would be, it could be overtaken by hamas , it could be overtaken by ISIS, it could be overtaken by Al Qaeda. It's an existential threat to the State of Israel, probably, possibly to jordan as well- we see what's happened with Gaza, you know, there's not a single Jew, living in Gaza, Israel controls almost the entire perimeter whether on the land or the sea, somehow, they're still rockets that are fired missiles that are being fired. So, Israel has to be really 100% certain that the Palestinians on the West Bank don't turn into the Gaza Strip. And there's no margin of error. And it's not, it's not a particular criticism of the Palestinian people, but, you know, obviously, implicit in that is that the Palestinian leadership is not provided, Israel, United States or, frankly, many countries including many European countries with the types of assurances that they can run a run country, in a way that's non threatening to his neighbors.
Abderrahim: Ambassador- thank you very much. Well thank you so much
AMB: I really enjoyed this and appreciate it.