US Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who has spent the last years attempting to cobble together a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, will step down after the release of the administration’s program, the White House announced Thursday.
The plan is expected to be released soon after Israeli elections on September 17.
“Jason Greenblatt has decided to return to New Jersey to be with his wife and six children, who throughout the administration have resided in New Jersey,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Greenblatt continues to “hold the confidence” of US President Donald Trump and his senior peace team, the official added.
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 assistant Jared Kushner. He will be replaced by Avi Berkowitz, a senior aide to Kushner who has been present in many of the meetings and discussions related to the peace proposal.
Referring to the plan, the senior official said that “the vision is now complete and will be released when appropriate.”
This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region
It is unclear when exactly Greenblatt will leave the administration, as he plans to be available during and immediately after the plan’s rollout.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have worked in the White House for over two and a half years under the leadership of President Trump,” Greenblatt said Thursday. “I am incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace. This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Greenblatt “for his dedication toward peace and security, and for never hesitating for a moment to speak the truth about Israel in front of those who defame it.”
In a series of tweets, Trump praised Greenblatt as a “loyal and great friend and fantastic lawyer.”
After almost 3 years in my Administration, Jason Greenblatt will be leaving to pursue work in the private sector. Jason has been a loyal and great friend and fantastic lawyer….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2019
“His dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be forgotten,” Trump wrote. “He will be missed.”
Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi slammed Greenblatt as “an apologist for Israel, a defender of the most extreme, hard-line policies of this government in Israel and somebody who holds its ideologically right-wing views.”
“He was always on a crusade to malign the Palestinians and justify anything the Israelis do,” she told The Times of Israel. “He was someone more suited to be a spokesman for Israel. At the same time, I don’t think it was personal. This administration certainly is not one that has been friendly to the Palestinians and all the people it has appointed have the clear prerequisite of being pro-Israel and holding an ideological commitment to Zionism and extreme Israeli hard-line policies.”
There was no immediate response to his departure from the Palestinian Authority, with whom Greenblatt has feuded publicly on social media.
Initially, Greenblatt was seen by all sides as an honest broker, trying in earnest to engage with both Israelis and Palestinians. But after the US administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, officials in Ramallah shunned him, accusing him of becoming a spokesperson for the Jewish state, especially in light of the fact that he often uses his Twitter account to slam the speeches and actions of Palestinians, but never criticizes Israel.
Greenblatt originally intended to join the administration only for two years to “analyze the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to draft a realistic and implementable vision to help solve the conflict and to work on developing relationships between Israel and the region,” according to the senior administration official.
The official credited Greenblatt as “instrumental” in Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Furthermore, the lawyer-turned-negotiator played a leading role in reframing discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by “using the approach that a real peace can only be built on truth,” and in developing warmer ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
“Jason has done a tremendous job leading the efforts to develop an economic and political vision for a long sought after peace in the Middle East,” Kushner said. “His work has helped develop the relationships between Israel and its neighbors as he is trusted and respected by all of the leaders throughout the region.”
Anticipating Greenblatt’s departure, the administration’s peace team has merged with the office of Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook. Hook, who is also a senior adviser to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accompanied Kushner, Greenblatt and Berkowitz during their last visit to Israel in late July.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will also remain involved in the peace plan, the senior official said.
“It’s been a tremendous privilege to work with Jason these past few years on the critical tasks of repairing and strengthening the US-Israel relationship and seeking peace and stability within the Middle East,” Friedman said.
“Jason has been a trusted friend and a valued colleague who has touched so many with his wisdom, sincerity and good will. He has made an enormous and indelible contribution which we will seek to build upon as we move forward.”
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior aide, hailed Greenblatt for his “kindness and unique talents” and said he will be missed in the White House. “We know he will continue to impact the world for the better.”
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.