After almost three years as America’s Special Representative for International Negotiations and an Assistant to President Donald Trump, Jason Greenblatt announced that he is stepping down. Widely known as the architect of the “deal of the Century” – the- yet unreleased peace plan between the Israelis and Palestinians — his sudden resignation came as a surprise. His resignation is also a great loss to the Trump administration, the United States and future negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Greenblatt took a unique approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its resolution, the role President Trump, mediators like Greenblatt and the United States should play in the resolution of the conflict. At the 2018 INSS conference Greenblatt said, “Our approach is rooted in the belief that instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we must give the parties space to make their own decisions about their future. Our approach is also guided by the belief that instead of laying blame for the conflict at the feet of one party or the other, we must focus on unlocking new areas of cooperation which benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.”
At the start of his role Greenblatt traveled to the region and met with Israelis and Palestinians and listened. He earned praise from Israelis, Palestinians and critics. PLO envoy Husam Zomlot praised Greenblatt, “They have traveled to the region, they have met with all parties, especially Mr. Greenblatt.” Even usual Trump critics like Haaretz, “He surprised many on the Palestinian side by meeting with residents of the Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah,” and Obama officials, “Greenblatt has made a universally positive impression among Israelis and Palestinians as serious, creative, empathetic and dedicated to the cause of peace. They see him as possessing goodwill and a sense of realism about what peace looks like.”
As time went on Greenblatt’s comments and tweets became more and more critical of the Palestinians and their policies. The critics quickly set their sights on Greenblatt, Aaron Maggid wrote, “14 months into his senior post, Greenblatt has shown a different face, routinely decrying Palestinian leaders across the political spectrum, while offering blanket support for the hawkish Israeli government. Thus, he has disqualified himself from playing any meaningful role as a fair arbitrator.”
Why did those who formally praised Greenblatt now begin to criticize his every statement?
More than the usual Trump rejectionism, Greenblatt committed the ultimate sin in Israeli-Palestinian mediation, he told the truth. After seventy years of diplomats lying about what the actual causes of violence in the region Greenblatt called it as he saw it. While Israeli “hawkish” policies and settlement expansion upset Palestinians, it is Palestinian corruption, support of terror, and tyrannical policies towards their own people Greenblatt saw as the root cause of the conflict.
More than his original approach of not being an outside force imposing his own plan on the region, what made Greenblatt such a transformative figure in the Israeli-Palestinian saga was his refusal to go along with the usual lies that have been told for decades by American mediators to preserve some false sense of fairness. Quietly all of his predecessors agree with Greenblatt, but publicly they wouldn’t tell the truth as Greenblatt did. For shining a light on the truth of Palestinian intransigence all of us are grateful to Mr. Greenblatt.
Aside from his political accomplishments, Mr. Greenblatt was an impressive personality. In a role that is often plagued by people who think they know it all, Greenblatt showed surprising humility. He spent his first year on the job drawing no conclusions. He listened to leaders in the region but also insisted on entering Palestinian refugee camps and Israeli settlements. He hosted Palestinians at his Shabbat table and visited Israelis at theirs. Past mediators have spent most of their time selling their ideas more than listening to other people’s opinions. Greenblatt practiced and has now taught other diplomats to listen before drawing conclusions. My students have had the privilege to spend hours with Mr. Greenblatt over the past two and a half years and were always taken by the respect he showed them. Never rushed, Greenblatt listened to them, and politely responded to each student. As an American, as an Israeli, as an Israeli-Palestinian peace activist, and as a teacher, I am grateful to Mr. Greenblatt. On behalf of all of us, thank you Mr. Greenblatt. You will be missed.