Settlements are not the issue preventing an Israeli-Palestinian deal, US Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said in a conversation with EU ambassadors in Ramat Gan on Tuesday, adding that Israel has been very careful over the last year regarding settlement construction.
According to a participant in the meeting, Greenblatt said it is necessary to look at what construction has actually taken place, rather than at various announcements made about settlement construction in the media.
Greenblatt, according to one of the participants, said there is not that much actual building taking place; that where it is taking place is contiguous to existing settlements; and that Israel has taken a sensible approach on the matter.
Last March, Israel agreed to restrict its building beyond the Green Line to the built-up areas of existing settlements and, where that is not possible, to build close to the existing construction lines in an effort to reduce its settlement “footprint.”
This was the first meeting Greenblatt held here with EU ambassadors, who were also joined by the ambassadors from Canada, Australia, Norway and Switzerland.
Greenblatt was asked at the meeting about the contradiction between what US President Donald Trump said when announcing the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – that this was not prejudging the final status of the city and that the borders would have to be worked out in negotiations – and his comment in Davos last week that the Jerusalem move had effectively taken the contentious issue “off the table.”
The US envoy’s response, according to participants in the meeting, was that it was Trump’s initial statement that accurately reflected US policy.
Although Greenblatt said it is not America’s responsibility to build a ladder on which the Palestinians could climb down from their stated position of ruling out any more US mediation, one of the participants in the discussion said Greenblatt gave the impression that he was intent on continuing to work with the Palestinians and figuring out a way to somehow move forward.
When asked – considering the Palestinian anger regarding the Jerusalem decision – if others could be drawn into the diplomatic efforts, he said the US continues to work on its diplomatic plan and that at some a point in the future there may be room for other actors to become involved.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT in the meeting said the intention seems to be that after a framework plan is worked out, there will be parallel talks on issues such as water and security, and that in those talks several other states will be involved to provide various levels of assistance.
Greenblatt refused to give any timeline for when the US would present its plan or any of its details.
He said there is a good relation with the Quartet and some regional partners, saying that Jordan’s King Abdullah is realistic and wise, and that he had good meetings with the Egyptians.
Regarding the Saudis, Greenblatt, according to those who took part in meeting, said they were thirsting to resolve the conflict, and that they expressed their commitment to work to do so.
Some of what Greenblatt said privately to the ambassadors, he said in a closed meeting Monday night – the contents of which were made public on Wednesday – at the opening of the annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv.
Greenblatt said there that while Israeli-Palestinian peace may seem a daunting and even impossible task, after extensive travel in the region, “I continue to firmly believe that there is a real path toward peace.”
He said he feels this way despite the angry Palestinian rhetoric over the past few weeks.
“Despite criticism following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, for the most part I have seen a growing receptivity to peace across the region,” he said.
Greenblatt said that Trump has brought a “fresh set of eyes and energy to the task of peacemaking,” and it is clear that his “actions and language have changed the expectation about what is possible. He has revitalized the discussion and language of peace in the region.”
Greenblatt acknowledged that Trump’s approach “reflects his unorthodox approach to the region,” but that it is “based on the belief that instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we must give the parties space to make their own decisions about their future.”
Regarding the Jerusalem decision, Greenblatt said it did not prejudge any final-status issues.
“As we move forward, it is important that we not allow our efforts to be disrupted by false claims about the nature or purpose of our [Jerusalem] decision,” he said. “These distractions help no one, least of all the Palestinian people.”
He said that peace will not be achieved by denying thousands of years of Judaism’s connection to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.
“Peace will not be achieved by walking away from negotiations. Peace only has a chance of success through a respectful, continuous dialogue and through continuous negotiation,” Greenblatt said.
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