Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, is to step down from the role, raising doubts about the publication of a long-delayed US plan meant to ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Greenblatt, who has been assailed by the Palestinians as supporting a rightwing Israeli agenda, has worked for several years with Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, on the proposal, which the US president previously described as “the deal of the century”.
While details of the plan have remained secret, Mr Greenblatt has consistently pushed for punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cutting nearly all US aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
His unexpected departure, weeks before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned on plans to annex large portions of the occupied West Bank, throws doubt on when, and whether, the deal will eventually be released.
Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday that Mr Greenblatt would leave the White House to “pursue work in the private sector”.”
The US peace plan to bring an end to the conflict has faced a series of delays. A senior administration official said on Thursday that “the vision is complete and will be released when appropriate”.
The official added that the White House had been preparing for Mr Greenblatt’s departure since the end of 2018, and that Avi Berkowitz, an adviser to Mr Kushner, had become “more involved” in the process as a result. Brian Hook, the state department’s Iran envoy and his team, had also been brought closer into the process.
The Trump administration unveiled part of the plan in June when it outlined an economic revival plan for the Palestinians that it hopes to persuade the international community and private businesses to fund.
The White House said the plan would “facilitate” $50bn of spending in Palestinian territories over the next decade. But it has so far produced no pledges and was dismissed by the Palestinians, who boycotted the event, as a failed publicity stunt.
Mr Kushner said at the time he hoped that Gulf states and countries in Europe and Asia, along with private investors, would fund his proposals.
The peace plan has been produced with little input from the Palestinians, who officially cut ties with the administration in December 2017, when Mr Trump announced his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Palestinians, alongside the vast majority of the international community, have advocated for a Palestinian nation to be created largely within the borders delineated after the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as a capital.
The US in March also recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing a half-century of US policy. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria after a decisive victory in the war of 1967 and applied Israeli law to the region in 1981, an annexation that was rejected by the international community.
Since his election, Mr Trump has cut all aid to Palestinian refugees and denounced Palestinian leaders for refusing to co-operate with the still-to-be-unveiled peace plan.
For Palestinians, Mr Greenblatt was part of a quartet one official described as “the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” who have embraced the rightwing Israeli government’s narrative that the Palestinian Authority sponsors terrorism, and that the creation of a viable Palestinian state would be a security risk for Israel.
The others include Mr Kushner; Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US; and David Friedman, the US ambassador who openly supports Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Together, these four have destroyed the possibility for a long-term, negotiated peace agreement with Israel,” said a senior Palestinian official who was involved in prior negotiations with Obama and Bush administrations. “Instead of being impartial, they were champions of rightwing Israeli ideology, supporting settlements, land-grabs, arbitrary punitive measures and the sidelining of Palestinian points of view.”