Outgoing Trump peace envoy meets PM amid election deadlock, will meet Gantz

Greenblatt visits Jerusalem to discuss Mideast vision, but with Israel stuck in post-vote paralysis, PM’s transitional government lacks authority to take far-reaching decisions

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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

The outgoing US envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, days after elections that left the Israeli leader’s political future in doubt.

Greenblatt is the architect of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which has raised widespread skepticism and has already been dismissed by the Palestinians.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt were joined by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

Neither Netanyahu nor Greenblatt delivered public remarks after their meeting, held Friday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The office of Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz said Friday evening that the US embassy had contacted them and requested to schedule a meeting with Netanyahu’s rival for the premiership. A date has not yet been set.

Earlier a spokesman for Gantz had denied media reports that Greenblatt and Gantz would convene, saying there had never been an invite to meet, though “we would be happy to meet when the opportunity arises.”

Netanyahu and Greenblatt’s meeting took place three days after the Israeli elections, which failed to produce a clear winner. Both Netanyahu and Gantz seek to secure the premiership despite neither having a clear path to a stable governing coalition.

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz at party headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, early on September 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The administration of US President Donald Trump had said it would release its long-anticipated plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal shortly after the September 17 election, though no date had been set.

But Israel’s election deadlock could complicate its plans. Israel has had a transitional government since the end of 2018, when the Knesset dissolved ahead of election 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 Tuesday’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. For example, ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Netanyahu promised to immediately annex the Jordan Valley area — about 25% of the West Bank – if he were able to build a new coalition. He would almost certainly not be allowed to do that were he to attempt it amid the current post-election deadlock.

In an interview published Wednesday, Greenblatt said the 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. He later clarified that he may stay on longer to see the peace proposal through.

“Although I have announced my departure, I am trying to stay until the plan is launched,” Greenblatt told an event in New York, according to Jewish Insider. “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.”

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.

Greenblatt 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.

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