Outgoing Trump peace envoy meets Gantz amid political deadlock
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Outgoing Trump peace envoy meets Gantz amid political deadlock

After talks with Netanyahu and Rivlin last week, Greenblatt has first face-to-face with possible future prime minister

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, center, and US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, right, meeting at the US Embassy's branch office in Tel Aviv on September 23, 2019. (Courtesy/Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, center, and US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, right, meeting at the US Embassy's branch office in Tel Aviv on September 23, 2019. (Courtesy/Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Outgoing US envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt held talks Monday with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, who is vying to win the right to negotiate a new Israeli government and may become the country’s next prime minister.

A US embassy spokesperson said Greenblatt and Gantz “had a cordial discussion on various topics, including the importance of the US-Israel relationship, security challenges within the region and efforts to promote peace.”

Neither Greenblatt nor Gantz delivered public remarks after their first face-to-face meeting, held Monday afternoon at the US Embassy branch office in Tel Aviv. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also attended the meeting.

Greenblatt, who is one of the architects of the Trump administration’s as-yet-unveiled Middle East peace plan, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday.

The Trump administration said it would release its long-anticipated plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal shortly after the September 17 election, but the vote failed to produce a clear winner, leaving Netanyahu and Gantz vying for the premiership with neither having a clear path to a stable governing coalition.

The ongoing political deadlock in Israel could complicate the administration’s plans to roll out a deal that has already been rejected by the Palestinians, who say the Trump White House is tethered to Netanyahu’s government.

US Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2019 (Matty Stern/US Embassy)

Israel has had a transitional government since the end of 2018, when the Knesset dissolved ahead of elections held on April 9. Those elections did not produce a majority coalition for Netanyahu, and the prime minister, rather than risk letting Gantz try to muster a majority instead, pushed through a vote to again dissolve parliament, triggering last week’s election and more political paralysis.

Under Israeli law and precedent, a transitional government, such as the one Netanyahu has now headed for nine months, is limited in terms of its capacity to take far-reaching decisions that would deeply affect the future of the state.

Its ability to begin negotiations based on the Trump parameters might thus be largely hampered.

Netanyahu made his close ties to Trump a centerpiece of his reelection bid and his pledges to annex parts of the West Bank drew strong criticism from critics, who said fulfilling those promises could deal a final blow to any hopes for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Last week, Greenblatt said the Trump administration had not yet decided whether it will unveil the plan during or after the current coalition negotiations.

“It’s too soon to tell. How will the election affect the plan? Our plan is different than what people have been talking about for so many years. We think we listened very hard to Israelis, Palestinians, the region, just about every expert.”

Earlier this month, Greenblatt announced his intention to quit his position shortly after the plan is unrolled or earlier if it delayed again. He later clarified that he may stay on longer to see the peace proposal through.

US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) is seen during a visit to the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on August 30, 2017. (David Azagury/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

“Although I have announced my departure, I am trying to stay until the plan is launched,” Greenblatt told an event in New York. “If the plan is launched soon, I will stay. And if the plan is launched and we get traction, I hope to stay longer — and I have my family’s support for it.”

The administration originally intended to roll out the plan following the April vote, but was stymied by Israel’s political deadlock.

Greenblatt, a former lawyer with the Trump Organization, has been working for the last two and a half years on the administration’s peace plan together with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. The White House announced on September 5 that the envoy would be stepping down to return to New Jersey to be with his wife and six children.

He will be replaced by Avi Berkowitz, a senior aide to Kushner who has been present at many of the meetings and discussions related to the peace proposal.

At the weekend, he wrote a farewell essay, highlighting the imperative to compromise and expressing his hopes for the White House plan.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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