Palestinian negotiator shoots back at Trump official in ongoing spat

After Jason Greenblatt says Saeb Erekat’s ‘false claims’ and rhetoric haven’t brought peace closer; PA official says US has refused to discuss anything of substance

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference in New York City, on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference in New York City, on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

A top Palestinian official accused the Trump administration’s top Middle East ngotiator of parroting right-wing Israeli views and refusing to put anything of substance on the table for discussion Sunday.

Saeb Erekat’s was the latest volley in an ongoing op-ed spat with Jason Greenblatt, coming less than a day after US President Donald Trump’s special Mideast envoy lashed out at the veteran negotiator and said he should step aside, in an episode that has highlighted simmering frustration between the sides over moribund peace efforts.

Erekat’s article in Haaretz Sunday evening accused Greenblatt’s of using discourse akin to leaders of the far right in Israel.

“It is not the rhetoric of a US official tasked with supporting the interests of peace in the region,” he wrote.

“In dozens of meetings we had with Mr. Greenblatt, he refused to discuss substance: no borders, no settlements, and no two-state solution. Today, his role is nothing less than peddling Israeli policies to a skeptical international community, and then becomes upset when he’s reminded of this,” Erekat wrote.

On Sunday morning, Greenblatt said Erekat’s “false claims” and rhetoric have not brought peace closer. He was responding in Haaretz newspaper to a May 17 op-ed by Erekat accusing American officials of acting as “spokespeople” for Israel and criticizing the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

The exchange comes shortly before the Trump administration is expected to unveil its peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, which Trump has termed the “ultimate deal.”

Greenblatt wrote that Erekat’s claims “were in many respects simply inaccurate.”

US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt,arrives at a news conference about a water-sharing agreement between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in Jerusalem, July 13, 2017. (AFP/POOL/RONEN ZVULUN)

Erekat had condemned the US for the embassy move, noting it occurred amid violence along the Gaza border, just 70 kilometers (45 miles) away. On the day of its opening in Jerusalem, an estimated 59 Palestinians were killed in Gaza at a mass rally led by the Islamic terror group Hamas that rules the territory. Most of the dead were later revealed to have been members of terror groups.

The use of potentially lethal force at the weekly protests has drawn international criticism. Israel accuses Hamas of using demonstrators as human shields while trying to carry out attacks, and says it is defending its sovereign border and communities nearby.

Erekat wrote that the contrast between the two events that day “aptly demonstrates the complete US and Israeli denial of the Palestinian history of dispossession.”

Greenblatt struck back on Sunday.

“For far too long, the United States has turned a deaf ear to such words, but ignoring hateful and false words has not brought peace and it will never bring peace,” he wrote.

“While some protesters were peaceful, many were quite violent. In fact, by Hamas’s own admission, more than 80 percent of those killed were Hamas operatives.”

He reiterated Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem — that boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city are to be determined in peace negotiations and that the US supports the status quo at the Temple Mount, a holy site that is revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Palestinians saw the decision as siding with Israel on one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and say it disqualifies the US from its traditional role of Mideast peace broker.

Israel took control of East Jerusalem, home to many sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, in 1967’s Six Day War. Palestinians claim the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem for its future capital, while Israel says the entire city is its eternal capital.

The fate of Jerusalem is an emotional issue at the heart of the conflict.

“The notion that Israel is going away — or that Jerusalem is not its capital — is a mirage. The notion that the United States is not the critical interlocutor for the peace process is a mirage,” Greenblatt wrote.

US officials say the administration intends to release the peace plan in mid-to-late June, shortly after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They say Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Greenblatt have already begun quietly briefing select allies and partners on elements of the proposal.

However, the prospect of Palestinian interest in the peace proposal appears dim. Peace talks have been frozen since 2014, and the Palestinians have little faith in the Trump administration which they view as biased toward Israel.

Greenblatt wrote that, over the past 16 months in his position, he has heard many Palestinian voices that disagree with Erekat’s approach, but are “afraid to speak publicly,” and seemed to hint at wanting his ouster.

“Dr. Erekat — we have heard your voice for decades and it has not achieved anything close to Palestinian aspirations or anything close to a comprehensive peace agreement. Other Palestinian perspectives might help us finally achieve a comprehensive peace agreement where Palestinian and Israeli lives can be better,” Greenblatt wrote.

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