Greenblatt’s departure and the fate of the U.S. peace plan - analysis

With Greenblatt's sudden resignation on Thursday, it is questionable whether the oft-delayed plan will be released at all.

September 5, 2019 21:15
3 minute read.
Greenblatt’s departure and the fate of the U.S. peace plan - analysis

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt speaks at the 8th annual Jerusalem Post conference, New York. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

On August 28, US Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt tweeted that the Trump administration has “decided that we will not be releasing the peace vision (or parts of it) prior to the Israeli election.”

With Greenblatt's sudden resignation on Thursday, it is questionable whether the oft-delayed plan will be released at all.

Greenblatt has been one of the major architects of the plan, and has dedicated much of his time in office – close to three years – helping to formulate it. His sudden departure leaves some wondering whether he would quit his central role on US President Donald Trump's Mideast team just before all the action starts, meaning before the negotiations that would ensue once the plan is released.

In basketball terms, this would be the equivalent of a team's power forward walking off the court and quitting the squad just before the start of the fourth quarter. His departure, therefore, could very well mean that there will be no fourth quarter – no final act – for the plan.

Ilan Goldenberg, a former state department official involved in the Israel-Palestinian diplomatic process who served as Martin Indyks' chief-of staff from 2013-2014 when Indyk was the US Middle East envoy, tweeted immediately following Greenblatt's announcement: “Let me translate this for you. [Jared] Kushner’s Mideast peace plan will not see the light of day before November 2020 if at all (my bet is on never).”

Indeed, the window of opportunity for Trump to release his plan is narrowing, as the US presidential campaign now kicks into a higher gear just five months prior to the beginning of the primaries.

If up until now it was the Israeli election season – in fact, two Israeli election seasons – that prevented the release of the plan, with the Administration apparently reticent to do anything that might make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's difficult political situation even more difficult, now the American election calendar comes into play.

Though every US president has a dream of going down in history as the man who brokered an Israeli-Arab peace deal, Trump and his team have to be asking themselves now what they have to gain politically from releasing the plan just a year before the presidential election, with little chance that it will lead to a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate since the Palestinians have already rejected the plan, sight unseen.

Moreover, if the plan calls for any kind of Israeli  territorial concessions, that would not go over well with a large part of Trump's Evangelical base who are opposed to any such move.

If the Trump team could get a guarantee beforehand from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE  and other Persian Gulf countries that they would publicly back the plan – even if the Palestinians reject it – then that could compel the administration to go forward.

But not knowing whether or not Trump will be re-elected, what Arab leader is going to stick out his neck publicly to support the plan over Palestinian objections? If there were assurances that Trump would be around for another four years, that would be one thing. But what if he is not, and a new president takes office who doesn't back the plan and decides to go in a different direction. Then the Arab leaders will be seen by many in their own countries as traitors to the Palestinian cause, even as the plan they went out on a limb to support might be buried.

On the other hand, there are some who argue that the plan may be presented by this strongly pro-Israeli administration precisely because there is no guarantee of another term for Trump, and it is important for people like Greenblatt, Kushner, US Ambassador David Friedman, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Advisor John Boloton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to set down a marker on this issue before they leave office.

President Bill Clinton laid out his parameters for peace – the Clinton Parameters – in the waning days of his term in 2000, and those parameters were a baseline that have guided Mideast negotiators ever since. But much has transpired in the region since then, and there are voices in the administration saying that there is a need to to set a new marker while they still have the opportunity to do so.  True, a new Democratic administration could always change course, but it will be much more difficult if there is a formal plan and paper.

But if that was indeed the administration’s intention, wouldn't Greenblatt want to stick around and help promote what he has been so instrumental in crafting?

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