Greenblatt says he’s never had reason to criticize Netanyahu, Israeli government

US envoy insists Israel has not taken any action that is unhelpful to future peace plan, rejects criticism of his statements on the Palestinians

Jason Greenblatt attends the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards gala at Carnegie Hall in New York, March 28, 2019. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Jason Greenblatt attends the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards gala at Carnegie Hall in New York, March 28, 2019. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said Wednesday he has never had any reason to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government for their policies on the Palestinians.

“I haven’t found anything to criticize that goes over the line,” Greenblatt told CNN in Bahrain.

The Trump administration wrapped up its Israeli-Palestinian economic conference in Manama Wednesday, hoping to drum up billions of dollars to support a vision of a thriving Palestinian economy should a peace deal be reached.

When asked about Netanyahu’s pledge prior to the April 9 elections to begin annexing West Bank settlements, Greenblatt said he hoped the prime minister wouldn’t take unilateral action before the full peace plan was unveiled, but added that it was unclear what the US would do if Israel took that step.

In this June 25, 2019, photo released by Bahrain News Agency, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner talks to the audience during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

“We have not made a determination on that. We are not up to things that might happen down the road. I think it’s a theoretical conversation at this point,” Greenblatt said.

Earlier this month, Greenblatt said he supported comments made by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who suggested that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.

On Wednesday, Greenblatt also rejected any comparison of his comments on Israeli and Palestinian officials, noting the Palestinian Authority’s policy of making payments to terrorists and their families. He said that Israel has not taken any action that is unhelpful to the future plan, and rejected criticism of his statements on the PA for its rhetoric on the proposals.

“When I condemn the PA for those kinds of statements — it’s saying that our peace plan is going to be born dead — that’s a very different thing,” Greenblatt said. “The Palestinian Authority is not only condemning our peace plan, they’re taking action to subvert it, to undermine it, to prevent peace from happening. They’re not here. They didn’t just say they’re not coming, they’re actually not here. That’s much more than a political statement.”

Trump has taken a series of landmark steps to benefit Israel, including recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital in 2017, leading the Palestinian Authority to cut off formal contact.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Wednesday said that the door remained open to the Palestinians to engage in a peace plan, as he accused the PA leadership of failing its people.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

Greenblatt also backed Kushner for his comments in May, which seemed to step away from a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a mainstay of previous US administrations.

“I think when he said that he was talking about from when we started working on this until a peace plan is revealed,” Greenblatt said. “We’re not going to use jargon and slogans which mean different things to different people.

“I think that President Trump probably said it best when he said that we will support whatever the two sides agree to. We’re presenting a plan that we think makes a lot of sense. We hope the two sides could agree to it, but we’re not going to get into just trying to distill what is an extraordinary conflict into three words,” Greenblatt added.

The Palestinian Authority says that Kushner’s $50 billion plan is a pretext by the pro-Israel Trump administration to impose a political solution that will adopt Israel’s positions on the conflict.

While Arab finance ministers, the heads of international financial organizations, private sector business executives and investors from dozens of states attended the workshop in Bahrain, the participants notably did not include official Israeli or Palestinian delegations, and many countries’ delegations were not headed by cabinet ministers.

Besides opposition from the intended beneficiaries of the proposal, the plan has been harshly criticized by former diplomats, aid workers and others involved in past peacemaking efforts for being unrealistic and lacking any clear description of who will pay for it.

Trump, Kushner and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argue that a new approach is needed precisely because previous efforts have fallen short.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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