President Trump’s point person on talks between Israel and the Palestinians said Thursday that he will soon leave his post, with no date announced to release the U.S.-drawn peace proposal.
The departure of lawyer Jason D. Greenblatt leaves the Arab-Israeli peace effort without its top full-time leader. Although Greenblatt has long said he did not intend to stay indefinitely, his departure now suggests that the team led by presidential aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner sees few prospects for direct peace negotiations.
Greenblatt would have played the role of front-line U.S. negotiator for talks Trump once hoped to launch, with a goal of what the former New York real estate developer called the “ultimate deal.”
It does not appear that Trump plans to bring in another lawyer or special envoy to replace Greenblatt, and it has been months since Trump spoke with any enthusiasm about Arab-Israeli peace.
The peace effort bogged down in its first year, when Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to declare that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians, who claim part of the holy city as their capital, walked away from the Kushner-Greenblatt effort and have refused all official contact with the administration since December 2017.
That left Greenblatt to oversee an attempt to prod negotiations from the margins, while the Trump administration took steps to isolate and undermine what Greenblatt called an obstructionist and hidebound Palestinian leadership.
The goal became to show Palestinians and their Arab backers a path to better jobs and lives through settling the decades-long conflict, and effecting an end-run around the governing Palestinian Authority.
It hasn’t worked.
Greenblatt said last month that the detailed peace package he had spent more than two years drafting would remain under wraps up until at least after Israeli elections Sept. 17, the latest of numerous delays meant to give the plan a chance. It is not clear whether the White House will go ahead with the release immediately after the vote, in which close Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to extend his term as prime minister.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have worked in the White House for over 2½ years under the leadership of President Trump. I am incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace,” Greenblatt said in a statement released by the White House. “This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region.”
The administration has declined to publicly endorse the long-held U.S. goal of a separate, independent Palestinian state. Trump has said he prefers that outcome but would accept what both sides find most workable.
The Kushner-Greenblatt plan is expected to call for Palestinian self-governance that is short of a fully sovereign state, although U.S. officials have never been explicit on that point. Instead, Kushner has said that his goal is to break out of established expectations for what a peace agreement would look like.
Greenblatt’s announcement comes just before Trump will see world leaders at the annual United Nations General Assembly this month. He spoke at length about his hopes for Middle East peace at last year’s session and had said then that he intended to release his plan within four months.
“I really believe something will happen. It is a dream of mine to be able to get that done before the end of my first term,” Trump said as he sat alongside Netanyahu at last year’s U.N. gathering.
This year, the Middle East topic capturing the most attention is the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a diplomatic endeavor that would go around Netanyahu to seek a new, stronger nuclear agreement. There is no plan for any high-level U.S. discussion of Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Trump praised Greenblatt in a tweet Thursday.
“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,” Trump wrote. “His dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be forgotten. He will be missed. Thank you Jason!”
Greenblatt was Trump’s top in-house lawyer at his real estate and development company before joining the White House. He did not announce either an exact departure date or plans for a next job.
A senior administration official told reporters Thursday that the negotiating team’s portfolio has partly merged with the administration’s larger operation focused on Iran. A senior Kushner aide, Avi Berkowitz, will assume an expanded role in the peace portfolio, the official said.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter, said the decision was Greenblatt’s and that he wants to return home after remaining in Washington longer than he had originally planned.
“He holds the confidence of the president and his senior team,” the official said.
Greenblatt’s team led a two-day summit in June in Bahrain, where he and Kushner presented detailed but hypothetical plans to improve jobs and economic outlook for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as surrounding Arab states.
The more difficult issues, including proposed borders, the status of Jerusalem and Arab land claims in Israel, were left out of the plans. The Palestinians rejected the package sight unseen as biased toward Israel.
“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. 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,” Kushner said in remarks released by the White House.
Netanyahu also released a statement.
“I would like to thank Jason Greenblatt for his dedicated work to security and peace, and for not hesitating for a moment to tell the truth about the State of Israel in front of all its abusers,” he said.
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.