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Israeli newspaper rows back on Friedman quote on Dahlan

US ambassador originally quoted as saying Washington was considering supporting the former Fatah leader as Palestinian president
David Friedman predicted that the normalisation deals marked the beginning of the end of 'the Arab-Israeli conflict'
David Friedman predicted that the normalisation deals marked the beginning of the end of 'the Arab-Israeli conflict' (AFP)

An Israeli newspaper has rowed back on a quote by US Ambassador David Friedman suggesting Washington was considering supporting the former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan as the next Palestinian Authority (PA) president, saying it misquoted the envoy.

There has been speculation that Dahlan, a staunch rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, could be supported by Washington to unseat the incumbent. 

Asked in an interview with Israel Hayom on Wednesday whether the US was considering the possibility of "appointing" Dahlan, who lives in the UAE, as the next Palestinian leader, the paper originally quoted Freidman as saying: "We're thinking about it, we have had no desire to engineer the Palestinian leadership."

However, later on Thursday, Israel Hayom, which is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a clarification, insisting the ambassador instead said "We're not thinking about it".

Friedman's remarks came after he attended the signing of a normalisation deal between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE in Washington on Tuesday.

Last month, Palestinians across the occupied territories demonstrated against the UAE deal.

Video footage of a protest in Ramallah showed demonstrators setting fire to photos of the UAE crown prince and Dahlan - who is on Turkey's most-wanted terrorism list for allegedly playing a part in the country's 2016 failed coup. 

Dahlan also brought and then dropped a libel case against Middle East Eye, which originally reported his alleged role in the plot.

Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have condemned the accords, which they say violate a longstanding pan-Arab position that Israel could normalise relations only in return for an end to the occupation.

On his return flight from Washington with the Israeli delegation, Friedman told Israel Hayom that the present Palestinian leadership was still holding on to very old and irrelevant complaints.

"They need to join the 21st century. They are on the wrong side of history at the moment," he said.

'Temporary suspension'

The UAE said that as part of the normalisation deal it had obtained a major concession from Israel and the US to halt plans to annex territory in the occupied West Bank.

However, when asked about the annexation, Friedman replied: "I think it will happen."

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He added that he believed the issue could be revisited in a manner that would be less controversial.

"It's a temporary suspension," he said.

The ambassador also predicted that the normalisation deals marked a new beginning for Arab-Israeli relations, because many more countries would soon join.

"We broke the ice and made peace with two important countries in the region," he said. 

As promised by US President Donald Trump, additional diplomatic breakthroughs were sure to follow, said Friedman. 

"When the dust settles, within months or a year, the Israeli-Arab conflict will be over," he said.