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Israel occupies just 2 percent of West Bank: US ambassador

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) speaks while his wife Tammy (2L), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2R) and his wife Sarah sit on stage during a Fourth of July Independence Day celebration at the residence of the US Ambassador to Israel in Herzilya Pituah on July 3, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The US ambassador to Israel has angered Palestinians after claiming that the Israeli regime has occupied only two percent of the West Bank.

David Friedman said in an interview with the Israeli news site Walla on Thursday that the Israeli settlements “are part of Israel.”

"They (Israelis) are only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank," he said.

Friedman added that the settlements have a high nationalistic, historical and religious significance.  

‘No change in US policy’

US State Department spokeswoman Heath Nauert later said Friedman's remarks "should not be read as a change in US policy."

"I'm aware of what he said," Nauert told reporters in Washington, DC. "His comments — and I want to be crystal clear about this — should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the US would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians. It should also not indicate a shift in US policy."

Israel captured and occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war. Israel has full control over the 60 percent of the area, while the Palestinians have very limited autonomy over the remaining 40 percent.

Israelis are not halting their illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, despite the fact that the international community regards all the Israeli settlements across the West Bank as illegal under international law.

About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

The presence and continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine have created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. Palestinians want the West Bank as part of their future independent state, with East al-Quds as its capital.

Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinians state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

US ambassador displays ‘absolute ignorance’

Nabil Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Thursday the US ambassador 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.

Since the January inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who is a staunch supporter of Israel, the Tel Aviv regime has stepped up its construction of settler units on occupied Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.

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