Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt to leave administration

Exit raises questions about Washington's much-awaited Palestinian-Israeli peace plan expected in weeks

Jason Greenblatt, White House Middle East Envoy, is reportedly leaving his role after two years crafting a plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shutterstock
Jason Greenblatt, White House Middle East Envoy, is reportedly leaving his role after two years crafting a plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shutterstock

The US special envoy for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Jason Greenblatt, will leave his position this month, a US official told The National on Thursday.

The news follows repeated delays by the US administration to release its peace plan, which President Donald Trump called the “deal of the century”, for resolving the conflict.

It unveiled the economic portion of the plan in June, days before a summit to discuss the details, in Bahrain.

Mr Greenblatt is expected to remain in his position until the end of the UN General Assembly meetings this month but it is unclear if he will stay until the plan is revealed, probably after Israel’s election on September 17.

He thanked the administration, saying that he was “incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace”.

The plan will have “the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region”, Mr Greenblatt said.

Presidential adviser Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka, daughter of Mr Trump, thanked the envoy for his efforts.

Ms Trump called him “a dear friend and colleague who will be missed in the White House”.

A US senior official said Mr Greenblatt “decided to return to New Jersey to be with his wife and six children” and that he had planned to join the administration for two years only.

“Jason was instrumental, together with others in the administration, when the president recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” a senior administration official said.

He said that Mr Kushner, his adviser Avi Berkowitz, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and special representative on Iran Brian Hook would take on increased roles.

Experts differed in their interpretation of Mr Greenblatt’s resignation.

Ilan Goldenberg, who advised former secretary of state John Kerry on the peace process, said it meant the Middle East plan would not be released before the US elections.

“Kushner’s Mideast peace plan will not see the light of day before November 2020, if at all,” Mr Goldenberg said in a tweet.

He said that with Mr Greenblatt gone, Mr Friedman’s influence in the team was likely to grow.

Mr Friedman is believed to be more hawkish on the conflict than Mr Greenblatt.

David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the timing of the departure was unlikely to have been related to the release of the plan.

But Mr Makovsky suspected it could be tied to an announcement by Mr Trump to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the elections, and one that could jeopardise the chances of a deal.

Others who have been critical of Mr Greenblatt said the resignation would have no impact.

“Greenblatt’s departure, like his entire tenure, will have zero impact on anything, least of all prospects for Israeli/Palestinian peace,” tweeted Khaled El Gindy, of the Brookings Institution.

Ghaith Al Omari, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, said the more immediate effect could be felt on regional contacts for the administration.

“Jason is the member of the peace team who is most plugged in into the diplomatic and regional thinking, interests and concerns," Mr Al Omari told The National.

"He brought these sensibilities into the administration’s deliberations. His departure will deprive the team of these valuable inputs."

Mr Greenblatt assumed his position in January 2017 but clashed with Palestinian officials on Twitter while trying to defend the administration’s position.

They accused him of siding with Israel and not acting as an impartial mediator.

It is unclear who will replace him. NBC reported that Mr Berkowitz, 30, also deputy assistant to the president, will take on a bigger role.

Updated: September 6, 2019 01:46 AM

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