Greenblatt hits back at Erekat, says claims of pro-Israel bias ’empty remarks’

Top Palestinian official told foreign diplomats US envoy ‘assumed the role of spokesperson of the Israeli authorities’ and ‘consistently repeated Israeli talking points’

US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt attends a press conference regarding the water agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, on July 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/File)
US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt attends a press conference regarding the water agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, on July 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/File)

US President Donald Trump’s special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt hit back at the “empty, self-indulgent” remarks by senior Palestinian official who earlier this week accused the White House official of being a mouthpiece for the Israeli government.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had told foreign diplomats in Ramallah that Greenblatt has “assumed the role of spokesperson of the Israeli authorities” and “consistently repeated Israeli talking points” that “blame Palestinians under occupation.”

In a letter circulated to the diplomats, Erekat slammed Greenblatt for warning Gazans to keep away from the Israeli border fence during mass demonstrators launched late last month, and did not demand that Israel avoid civilian casualties.

“It is clear that those who do not consider that the lives of Palestinians and Israelis are of equal value cannot possibly promote any plan that will be remotely close to a just and lasting peace,” Erekat wrote. “Rather, the Trump administration continues to adopt Israeli positions.”

On Friday, Greenblatt slammed Erekat for the letter, saying his “outburst” was a distraction from the stalled peace talks.

“Saeb Erakat’s personal attack on me is a symptom of the difficulties in the path to peace. Saeb knows there’s no truth to his accusation,” Greenblatt tweeted. “This outburst, like all his recent outbursts, is merely intended as a distraction from the important work that lies ahead.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, speaks to journalists during a press conference after meeting with diplomats and foreign dignitaries, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

“But this empty, self-indulgent rhetoric won’t stop us from trying,” Greenblatt said. “Saeb: It’s time to time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Or, you can continue to run in circles, and get pretty much nowhere!”

The incident came amid tensions along the security fence in recent weeks, with the Palestinians holding mass marches near the border, and in some cases rioting, for the last three consecutive weekends. Israel says the violence is being orchestrated by Hamas, which it accuses of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests.

More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the clashes over the past three weeks, according to Hamas-run health authorities. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members, and Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.

On Friday, at least 10,000 Gazans took part in large-scale demonstrations, with the Israeli military saying protesters hurled an explosive device and firebombs at Israeli troops deployed at the border, as well as making “several attempts” to damage the fence between Israel and Gaza and cross over into Israeli territory.

Protesters torched tires and burned large Israeli flags, as well as posters of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister. Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky. They also burned pictures of Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Palestinians burn tires at the border fence with Israel, east of Jabalia in the central Gaza city, during a protest on April 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

After the demonstrations three weeks ago, Greenblatt slammed Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar’s encouragment of large-scale protests against Israel as “monstrous.”

“Is this what a leader does?” he said. “This only hurts the Palestinians of Gaza. This old-line of thinking and ideology hurts all Palestinians. This can cause the situation to escalate and many lives could be lost. Will Hamas ever learn?”

Greenblatt did not mention Israel’s military response to the protests, which critics have decried as disproportionate.

He went on to reiterate US demands that Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, cede control of the Gaza Strip to the PA.

“Hamas must relinquish its control of Gaza to the PA and disarm,” he stated. “If it wants to join the REAL world, it must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and decide to abide by past agreements. It’s time for Hamas to make some real decisions.”

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