Amid Jerusalem fallout, Trump envoy heads to Israel to try to advance peace bid
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Amid Jerusalem fallout, Trump envoy heads to Israel to try to advance peace bid

Jason Greenblatt will stay in the region until after visit of US Vice President Mike Pence; unclear if Abbas or any Palestinians will be prepared to meet with him

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US special envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) attends the launch of a project to improve access to wastewater treatment and water for Palestinian farmers, on October 15, 2017, in the West Bank city of Jericho. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
US special envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) attends the launch of a project to improve access to wastewater treatment and water for Palestinian farmers, on October 15, 2017, in the West Bank city of Jericho. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

WASHINGTON — Amid violent regional protests over US President Donald Trump’s decision last week to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, his top peace envoy will head to Israel early next week to try to advance efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian accord.

The White House said Jason Greenblatt would come to Israel next week and stay throughout the upcoming visit of Vice President Mike Pence. It is not clear if Greenblatt will try to meet with Palestinian officials, who have refused to meet Pence and declared the US no longer has a role to play in the peace process.

“As we have said since the Jerusalem announcement, we anticipated reactions like the ones going on in the region but are going to remain hard at work on our peace plan,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel on Friday.

The announcement of Greenblatt’s impending visit came as four Palestinians died on Friday afternoon after being shot in clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza.

One of them — Mohammed Aqal, 29 — stabbed an Israeli Border Police officer in the upper torso before being shot. He died on Friday evening, the Palestinian Authority health ministry said.

Numerous Arab leaders have denounced Trump’s December 6 decision on Jerusalem, which was welcomed in Israel. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a fiery speech at an emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) this week, in which he urged the international community to roll back its recognition of Israel and said the Palestinians would no longer work with the US as a mediator in peace talks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Yasin Akgul)

The White House shot back at those remarks, saying that kind of rhetoric from the Palestinian leader had “prevented peace for years.”

Meanwhile, at the same forum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump’s move reflected the US president’s “Zionist mentality” and that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a “red line” for Muslims. On Friday, Erdogan vowed to have Trump’s decision “annulled” by the UN.

Amid this, Pence is due for a visit to Israel, too.

US Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Muniz National Guard Air Base, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

The former Indiana governor’s trip was delayed by several days so that he could be in Washington to try and push through a tax reform bill the president supports. He is expected to arrive in Israel from Cairo on Wednesday and stay for three days.

While in the Jewish state, he will speak at the Knesset, visit Yad Vashem and light a menorah at the Western Wall. He will not, however, meet with Abbas or Palestinian officials — all of whom refused to see him in protest over the Jerusalem decision.

It was not immediately clear whether Greenblatt will be able to meet with Abbas or any other Palestinian officials. He will meet with European Union representative to the so-called Middle East “Quartet,” Fernando Gentilini, the White House official said, in a bid to rescue one of Trump’s “highest priorities” of a Mideast peace deal.

“The president remains as committed to peace as ever,” the official added.

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