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 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. 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 2 ½ 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 remarks 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.”
Trump praised Greenblatt in a tweet.
“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.
His departure raises further questions about the Kushner-lead Middle East peace effort that already was failing to gain any traction, with the Palestinians accusing the administration of taking an aggressively pro-Israel approach to any potential negotiations.
It does not appear that Trump plans to bring in another lawyer or special envoy to replace Greenblatt.
A senior administration official told reporters Thursday that the negotiating team’s portfolio also 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 Bahrain in June 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, would be addressed in the second part of the proposal. The package has been repeatedly delayed, and Palestinian leaders have rejected it 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.