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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Jason Greenblatt: Palestinian leaders should do more for their people

Exclusive: US Middle East envoy triggers angry response from Saeb Erakat after accusation that Ramallah stands in the way of economic progress

Jason Greenblatt meets the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman last year. Palestinian Presidency / Getty
Jason Greenblatt meets the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman last year. Palestinian Presidency / Getty

The Palestinian leadership is letting down its people by obstructing economic progress and stifling opportunity for fear that they will lose interest in the cause of self-determination, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy writes exclusively for The National.

Jason Greenblatt has worked for 22 months on the US leader’s peace plan to strike the “impossible deal” and end the decades-long conflict and, with those efforts, he is calling for a marked improvement in the lives of Palestinians to be led by their own politicians.

“Palestinians deserve more from their leadership than political statements and bargaining positions. While waiting for a possible political solution, it is high time to build the Palestinian economy and provide Palestinians with the opportunities they deserve,” he writes.

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Read Jason Greenblatt's comment in full:

Palestinians deserve better than calcified positions that have failed to bring peace, jobs or opportunity

Read Saeb Erekat's response:

The Trump administration is trying to divide us by claiming the Palestinian leadership is preventing economic growth

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Mr Greenblatt earned a robust response from Ramallah on Friday. Also writing exclusively for The National, Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Chief Negotiator, accused the Trump administration of trying to divide Palestinians by claiming the leadership is preventing economic growth.

He writes that “economic desperation is seen by the Trump administration as an opportunity to force Palestinians to normalise Israel’s occupation, to legitimise its settlements and its whole system of oppression”.

“The administration has been trying to divide Palestinians by claiming that the Palestinian leadership is preventing economic growth. However, there is a consensus among our people that the primary responsibility for our grave financial situation is the Israeli occupation.”

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded on Friday to Jason Greenblatt's attack on the Palestinian leadership. AP / Amr Nabil
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded on Friday to Jason Greenblatt's attack on the Palestinian leadership. AP / Amr Nabil

Tens of thousands of Palestinians, many labourers, travel to work in Israel every day, but Mr Trump’s top envoy in the region suggests many could be working for some of the world’s biggest tech companies if the Palestinian leadership and residents of the West Bank weakened their staunch anti-Israel positions because of the occupation that has been in place since 1967.

“The Palestinian leadership has barricaded their people from those opportunities. The Palestinian economy needs initiatives now without deterring from Palestinians’ political aspirations,” he says. “Anti-normalisation is a failed policy that only hurts the Palestinians.”

Jason Greenblatt has worked on US President Donald Trump's 'impossible deal' for 22 months with White House adviser Jared Kushner. AP Photo
Jason Greenblatt has worked on US President Donald Trump's 'impossible deal' for 22 months with White House adviser Jared Kushner. AP Photo

The US envoy risks further stoking Palestinian anger over the accusations that the leadership is standing in the way of economic progress.

Officials in Ramallah maintain that it is Israel’s military occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and its settlement enterprise in both territories, that is the biggest obstacle to Palestinian prosperity. The Israeli military restricts Palestinian movement with checkpoints, hindering movement for workers, rights groups say. There are also about 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank who live in their own outposts under civil Israeli law and receive state funding. Palestinians say the network of outposts is a deliberate attempt to prevent the contiguity of any future Palestinian state.

Mr Greenblatt’s comments come as relations between Washington and Ramallah are at their lowest ebb.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which presides over parts of the West Bank and is led by President Mahmoud Abbas, cut all ties to the US administration after Mr Trump relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital.

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Other decisions the US administration say were taken to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table have only served to further alienate them. Washington cut all aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, slashed funding for East Jerusalem hospitals that serve sick Palestinians and closed the Palestinian mission in Washington.

“These illegal steps have shattered Palestinian efforts to engage with the US for nearly a year, when several meetings took place,” writes Mr Erekat.

“Throughout this period, Donald Trump’s team refused to even utter the terms ‘Palestinian rights’ or 'Palestinian state' – precisely in keeping with hardcore Zionists, who do not believe Israelis and Palestinians are entitled to the same rights. To believe in equality, however, is significant in the realisation of peace.”

He continues: “It’s utterly despicable that those illegal settlements, considered war crimes under the Rome Statute, are now ironically referred to as ‘examples of co-existence’. Our rights are thus further ignored, including our right to self-determination."

Yet Mr Greenblatt said the onus is now on the PA in the West Bank to open up the Palestinian economy for the good of its people instead of taking positions that have failed to bring peace with the very country that occupies the territory in question.

“Let’s allow Palestinians to thrive in the way they are educated, capable of and deserve,” he writes.

“We won’t tire of trying to resolve the political conflict (and certainly Palestinians won’t either), but we must focus on helping the Palestinian economy where we can, before it is too late.”

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Read in full:

Palestinians deserve better than calcified positions that have failed to bring peace, jobs or opportunity