Untimely Exit for Mideast Envoy

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIALS

Jason Greenblatt is leaving his position as the president’s special envoy for Middle East Peace, marking the departure of an expert who is highly respected for his knowledge of the region. Whether his efforts thus far will result in a workable, sensible, equitable peace plan remains to be seen.

Confirming word from unnamed sources, President Donald Trump went on Twitter to announce Greenblatt’s departure, saying:

“Jason has been a loyal and great friend and fantastic lawyer…. His dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be forgotten. He will be missed. Thank you Jason!”

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Since 2017, Greenblatt had worked closely with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, on what the president has persisted in calling “the deal of the century” to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In a statement, Kushner praised Greenblatt’s work.

“Jason has done a tremendous job leading the efforts to develop an economic and political vision for a long sought after peace in the Middle East,” he said. “His work has helped develop the relationships between Israel and its neighbors as he is trusted and respected by all of the leaders throughout the region.”

The kind words about Greenblatt’s work are welcome, but the timing of his resignation is unfortunate, since both Israeli and Palestinian officials have praised his fairness and good judgment. When his departure was announced, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella organization for the entire spectrum of Jewish leadership, issued a statement lauding Greenblatt’s candor and approachability.

After Greenblatt departs, Avi Berkovitz, an adviser to Kushner, will play an active role in the negotiations, according to a New York Times story. Trump administration officials have said the Greenblatt-Kushner plan would not be released until after next week’s elections in the Jewish State.  An official told the Times that “the vision is now complete and will be released when appropriate.”

During his campaign for re-election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken several aggressive steps to virtually annex parts of the West Bank that could form the basis of a Palestinian state.  For his part, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected any peace deal developed by the United States, which he says is “too pro-Israel” to be an honest broker.

But for any plan to succeed, both the Israelis and Palestinians must see that they would be better off than they are under the longstanding stalemate.  

The Trump administration has been extremely supportive of Israel by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  If Israel balks at terms of the Greenblatt-Kushner plan, the White House could use its positive influence over Netanyahu to persuade him to compromise. Years ago, in the Wye River negations, Netanyahu showed welcome flexibility in resolving the status of Hebron with then Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

For his part, Abbas, who is serving the 12th year of his four-year term as Palestinian leader, must rejoin the peace process, or he risks losing irrevocably the chance for the independent state he says he wants, only to have rejected it over and over again.

The last thing the volatile Middle East need right now is more uncertainty and instability. Greenblatt’s participation fulfilled a much-needed statesmanship to a critically important process.

We hope that once the White House plan is released, it can play a constructive role in putting the peace process back on track. In the meantime Greenblatt deserves the appreciation of the American, Israeli and Palestinian people for his efforts.

As the Light goes to press, Netanyahu has pledged to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a move which would certainly doom any chance for a two-state solution.  If that plan is in fact supported by the White House and State Department, it would be a deeply concerning development.  Israel should stay out of U.S. elections, and the U.S. should not take actions that favor specific candidates in Israeli elections.