US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, was due in Israel on Sunday night to advance the administration’s goal to restart negotiations.
Greenblatt was set to meet with US Ambassador David Friedman after he arrives and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
“While the primary purpose of his trip is to meet with the ambassador now that the ambassador is on the ground and fully installed in his position, Greenblatt will also likely be taking meetings relevant to both the Israelis and the Palestinians,” a senior White House official told The Times of Israel.
“This trip is an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps. [US] President Trump has made it clear that working toward achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him.”
During his last visit to Israel at the end of June, Greenblatt accompanied Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner to a meeting with Netanyahu and another with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who the two US officials met in his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
Palestinian sources told Hebrew and Arabic media later that the meeting had not gone well and that the Palestinian leader had accused the US of taking Israel’s side while refusing US demands that Ramallah cut off payments for some convicted terrorists and their families.
Kushner reportedly began his meeting with Abbas by stating all the Israeli concerns, including stopping the payments, according to Hebrew media reports, angering Abbas.
A senior Palestinian official said at the time that a preparatory meeting with Greenblatt a day before the meeting with Kushner had also not gone well and became tense over the payments to prisoners that Greenblatt had insisted come to an end.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a closed diplomatic meeting, said the Palestinians had rebuffed Greenblatt’s pressure and demanded an Israeli settlement freeze.
According to reports in Arabic media, the Americans watered down their demand about payments to prisoners. Originally, the US wanted all payments halted, but now they only want the Palestinians to stop paying salaries to some 600 prisoners who are serving life sentences and are responsible for the deaths of Israelis.
Abbas has defended payments to Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, as a “social responsibility,” and said Israel was using the issue as a pretext to avoid peace talks.
Abbas refused to end the payments to prisoners, instead insisting on restarting the trilateral committee on incitement. The committee includes Israeli, Palestinian and American officials and was formed as part of the Wye River Memorandum in 1998. The committee met every two months until the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000.