US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy said on Thursday that he prefers to call Israeli settlements “neighborhoods and cities,” and that they are not the main impediment to peace.
Discussing Washington’s efforts to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians at the “Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israel Relations” in Jerusalem, Jason Greenblatt said, “We might get there if people stop pretending settlements, or what I prefer to call ‘neighborhoods and cities,’ are the reason for the lack of peace.”
During his speech, the Trump envoy admonished the Palestinian Authority for not attending the US-led Peace to Prosperity workshop in Bahrain earlier this week, during which Washington introduced the economic component of its long-awaited peace plan.
“It is a shame that the Palestinian Authority chose not to attend and tried to convince others not to attend. They distorted our message and attempted to undermine our progress but they did not succeed,” Greenblatt said.
The choice to refrain from criticizing Israel on settlements while panning the PA for “miss[ing] a real opportunity” was consistent with the approach the Trump envoy took in a CNN interview on Wednesday. During that interview, asked why he has never publicly denounced the Israeli government as he has the PA, Greenblatt responded, “I haven’t found anything to criticize that goes over the line.”
Asked about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-April-election pledge to annex parts of the West Bank, Greenblatt said he hoped that the premier wouldn’t take any unilateral actions until the full peace plan was unveiled, but added that it was unclear what the US would do if Israel took that step.
Earlier this month, Greenblatt said he supported comments made by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who suggested that some degree of Israeli annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.
Friedman also attended the Israel Hayom event and introduced the night’s honored guest, the former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Before calling up Haley, Friedman shared his thoughts on the current state of the media, which he claimed was no longer synonymous with “the truth” like it once was. “Today most news anchors operate differently [than in the past]. They have no misgivings about sharing their views with the audience,” Friedman said.
“Not every media outlet is flawed, many are. Israel Hayom, you guys are okay,” the US envoy said, addressing the unabashedly pro-Netanyahu daily, which organized the conference.
Friedman claimed that under Trump, the US relationship with Israel has been one based on truth. He contrasted that with the “parting betrayal” the Obama administration left for Israel by abstaining on the UN Security Council’s anti-settlement Resolution 2334 — a motion he branded a “lie.”
Netanyahu struck a somewhat similar tone in an onstage interview with Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth, during which he discussed his differences with former president Barack Obama, particularly on the issue of Iran.
“It’s always difficult to challenge the policies of an American president, but I felt compelled to do so,” Netanyahu said, referencing his decision to advocate against the Obama-led Iran deal in a contentious address to a joint session of Congress in 2015.
Asked if he was worried about Israel losing the bipartisan support it has long enjoyed on Capitol Hill, in light of the growing number of Democratic presidential candidates who have vowed to take a more confrontational approach to his government if elected, Netanyahu pointed out that there have long been periods where one party was more supportive of Israel than the other.
However, he added that the reason for growing resentment of Israel in Congress “had to do with changes in America, not Israel.”
The evening’s main event was another onstage interview, with Israel Hayom publisher Miriam Adelson quizzing Haley about her time at the UN.
Haley, who stepped down in December, won plaudits in Israel and among the pro-Israel community in the US while in office for her staunch backing of the Jewish state and criticism of the Palestinian leadership at the UN.
Adelson introduced Haley as Israel’s “Wonder Woman on the world stage” and the “potential first female president of the United States.”
Asked about alleged anti-Israel bias at the UN, Haley said she first understood “how bad it was” when she attended a session on the Middle East, which she called “disgusting.”
In response, the former US envoy said that when every other country would use those sessions to criticize Israel, she would raise a different threat to the region at each meeting. “Over time, they started to do the same,” Haley recalled, claiming that the amount of focus on Israel at the UN has decreased over time.
Asked if she would support an Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Haley toed the line of the administration she no longer works for. “I think we should see how the peace plan plays out,” she said.
She then contrasted the possibility of such a move with Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which “had simply been stating a fact.”
Haley said voting to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Trump administration for its Jerusalem move was one of her “proudest moments” as ambassador.
“To be able to stand up to defend our right and our sovereignty and our friendship with Israel was a very proud moment,” she said.
Before leaving the stage, Adelson asked if Haley would take the opportunity to announce her candidacy for president in the 2024 elections.
“I think the air in Jerusalem brings clarity. I can say with great clarity that I know I’m too young to stop fighting. But I’m also very much enjoying private life. I will continue to be loud and proud about all the things that are important. 2024 is a long way away, and a year in politics is a lifetime. But I can say with clarity I will never stop fighting,” she said.
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