A changed paradigm

After two-and-a-half years in the post, Greenblatt is said to be planning to return to the private sector.

By
September 7, 2019 20:33
3 minute read.
Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy.

Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy.. (photo credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

On Thursday, Jason Greenblatt announced that he would soon be leaving the Trump administration and stepping down from his post as the president’s Special Representative for International Negotiations.

After two-and-a-half years in the post, Greenblatt is said to be planning to return to the private sector – he worked in the past as an attorney for Donald Trump – although only after the peace plan he has been working on will be unveiled, sometime after Israel’s September 17 elections.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have worked in the White House for over two-and-a-half years under the leadership of President Trump,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “I am incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace. This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region.”

We do not yet know what will exactly be in the plan and the reasons behind Greenblatt’s departure have not fully been explained. Nevertheless, Greenblatt can be commended for helping to lead the change the Trump administration implemented when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian paradigm.

Under previous administrations, and particularly the one led by president Barack Obama, Israel always seemed to be the aggressor, to be in the wrong and to be the side of the conflict that was the obstacle to peace.

Together with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Greenblatt helped change the way the American government speaks about settlements, checkpoints and other contentious issues related to the conflict.

If in the past, the State Department used to condemn every new building announcement in east Jerusalem or the West Bank, that doesn’t happen anymore. If previous administrations used to ignore Palestinian praise for terrorism or Mahmoud Abbas’s continued funding of salaries for jailed terrorists, that also does not happen today.

Greenblatt helped change the conversation from one that was just about placing blame on Israel to one that recognized that the Palestinians were just as much to blame for the lack of progress in the peace process, if not more.

The economic summit held in Bahrain in June which was attended by Israelis – including our own Herb Keinon – showed how Greenblatt could skillfully break down barriers and help realign the Middle East with an understanding that Israel is a partner to countries in the Gulf, not an adversary.

On the other hand, Greenblatt’s role and outspoken support of Israel led Palestinians to believe that the US was no longer an “honest” broker in the region.  That alone may have  buried the so-called “Deal of the Century”.

What will happen with that plan now remains to be seen. Greenblatt might have been the key convener and author of the plan, but it has other architects, including Jared Kushner and Friedman. Will it really come out as the administration says it will after Israel’s election? Will it succeed in bringing the sides together? Or will it automatically be rejected by Abbas’s intransigent government in Ramallah?

Ultimately, no matter how detailed and comprehensive a deal it is, it will face two major problems from the outset. The first is that any peace plan needs to have presidential involvement, without which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to bring the two sides to the table. Trump, who is already deep into his re-election campaign, does not appear to be the type willing to invest the time, effort and personal resources.

The second problem is in Jerusalem and Ramallah, where the leaders – Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas – do not seem interested in negotiating or working on a resolution to the conflict. Netanyahu is never in a rush to get involved in a peace process and Abbas seems to prefer to wait for November 2020 and see who wins the presidential elections. Why rush into something if Trump might be out of the Oval Office in a year?

Greenblatt has played a positive role in this process. As much as he has done though, no one can want peace more than the sides themselves.


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