Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, attends a reception hosted by the Orthodox Union in Jerusalem ahead of the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Blaming the settlements for the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is a “farce,” US Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt said.
Greenblatt’s comments came two weeks after US Ambassador David Friedman said in a New York Times interview that Israel had the “right to retain” some of the West Bank. On Sunday, at the Jerusalem Post Conference, Greenblatt said he supported Friedman’s remarks.
“The lack of peace has nothing to do with the existence of settlements, no matter what people say day in and day out,” Greenblatt said on Monday at a discussion in Manhattan with New York Times columnists Bret Stephens and Shmuley Boteach, at Boteach’s World Values Network.
During the conversation, Greenblatt provided some insight into how the Trump administration views the upcoming economic workshop it will convene in Manama, Bahrain, next Tuesday and Wednesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called the meeting “important,” and something Israel welcomes.
The White House announced on Monday that Israeli government officials would not be invited, though Israeli businesspeople will be present.
The meeting, Netanyahu said, “is part of US efforts to bring about a better future, and to solve the problems of the region.”
Among the Israelis expected to attend are Yoav Mordechai, former head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and Yitzhak Kreiss, director-general of the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
In explaining why Israeli government officials were not invited, Greenblatt said that the administration did not want to “politicize” the event.
“If the Palestinian Authority was willing to come, of course we would invite Israel,” he said. “Having them both in the room can only be positive. The Palestinian Authority, to the tremendous detriment of its people, chose to boycott it. We don’t want to politicize something that still has other positive reasons to go forward with.”
Greenblatt said the administration is intentionally calling the event a “workshop” and not a “summit” or “conference.”
“We are going to air ideas and want feedback from the audience,” he said. “It would have been great had the Palestinian leadership showed up to give feedback. But instead, they not only decided to boycott, but they chose to undermine it by telling everyone else not to attend, or to lower the level of attendance. How does that help the Palestinian people? That is terrible for the Palestinian people.”
Greenblatt explained the rationale for breaking the administration’s peace deal into two components: an economic one that will be discussed at Bahrain, and a political one whose release date is yet to be determined.
“This is a very detailed peace vision,” he said. “You cannot have a successful peace agreement without a successful economic plan, which means we are worried about the days after, the weeks after, the months after, the years after. We don’t want to set up a political plan only to find it fail, and we would put the region in a worse position than the position it is in now.”
Greenblatt said that if the plan would be rolled out all at once, “it would be a great deal of information for people to digest. So we thought the best thing to do would be to start with the economic [plan] and let the Palestinians… let the region understand the many great things that can happen for the Palestinian people from the economic plan if we also can achieve a political agreement.”
The US envoy said that “in a perfect world,” the political chapter of the plan would have been unveiled shortly after the economic chapter, but that the new elections in Israel created a setback.
“We will have to make a decision after the Bahrain workshop when we will release the plan,” he said. If the final decision is made not to release it during the election campaign or the coalition building process following the September 17 election, then the delay may be take until November 6, the deadline for a new government to be formed. That is certainly a possible date for the release of the plan, Greenblatt said, adding that he did not want to commit to a specific date.
While Greenblatt said that Trump would not bury the plan during the US election season – which will begin in earnest around Labor Day on September 2 – he said the president has the ability to “handle complex tasks at the same time,” and is also a “deal-maker” who is “realistic.”
“If he doesn’t think a deal can be achieved, he isn’t going to keep chasing it,” Greenblatt said. “Does he still want to do it? Absolutely. But will he continue to do it in a way that makes no sense for us, or for Israel or the Palestinians, because it can’t gain traction or sustain traction? No, I don’t think he would continue just beating his head against the wall to try to push for a deal that can’t happen. We just don’t know the answer yet.”
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