Jason Greenblatt, Special Representative for International Negotiations for US President Donald Trump, sat down for an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Washington about the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Greenblatt revealed that the Trump Administration is currently working on a 60-page political peace plan, which will be a second part to the economic plan released at a workshop in Bahrain in June. Greenblatt believes their plan can end the conflict, and create “better lives and a better future” for both Israelis and Palestinians, but it has not been decided when the plan will be released.
According to Greenblatt, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and leaders of other Arab nations have not been consulted in the making of this plan.
Greenblatt told Asharq Al-Awsat that the plan will not feature the phrase “two-state solution,” because using that language “leads to nothing.” When asked about the fate of Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank, Greenblatt said he prefers to call them “neighborhoods and cities,” but cannot comment on the specifics of their plan until it is released.
When asked about rumors that Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Services, would be visiting Washington, Greenblatt said the rumors are not true and that he has not spoken to Faraj since 2017.
In the interview, Greenblatt emphasized that their plan will not be a “take-it or leave-it deal,” but will be one where both sides will have to come together in person, and engage in tough negotiations to work out a solution.
If the plan fails, Greenblatt says it will be detrimental to both sides, but the US cannot force them to accept anything.
Palestinian leadership boycotted the economic workshop in Bahrain, what are you planning on guaranteeing the Palestinians so that they do not reject the political side of your plan, and how will you get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate on issues they strongly disagree on?
We don’t guarantee anything other than a sincere, dedicated effort to resolve the conflict. We aren’t paying people to come back to the table. What should make them come back to the table is when they see the political plan, which will be coupled to the economic plan they saw already, they will hopefully be excited about what we’ve created. That’s where we think the Palestinian people will realize the tremendous future that could be ahead of them. There’s no secret, the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis are difficult and challenging, nobody could create a plan that both sides could embrace. What we can do, and what I think we’ve done, in about 60 plus pages plus exhibits, is create something that both sides can completely understand how they can get out of this conflict, how they can get better lives and a better future. The Palestinians, they can create something similar to Israel. They can be tremendously successful, prosperous, safe and secure, but the Palestinian leadership needs to take responsibility and ownership of the problem and needs to lead its people to a better future.
On Monday, you said in a speech at the Christians United for Israel Summit that Iran is “very likely to be a significant spoiler” of the Israeli Palestinian peace process. Can you elaborate on how you see Iran as a spoiler to the peace process?
I think Iran’s worst nightmare is to have a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. I think they are interested in just causing trouble in the region, they have interest in taking over much of the region, and I think the Palestinians are used as pawns. Hamas, in particular, is a terrorist organization that’s funded by Iran. I think Hezbollah is as well. They’re only interested in making trouble. If the Palestinians want a bright future, they should recognize that they shouldn’t be used as a tool by Iran or by anyone else for that matter. It would be a real tragedy for the Palestinian people if they allow Iran to cause trouble in the region. It’s also really bad for our allies, it’s bad for Israel, for Jordan, and for Saudi Arabia. One thing we are focused on is, how do we make sure that all of our friends and allies in the region are united together to fight the threat of Iran which is the biggest problem in the region.
Is there any effort by the Arab leaders to convince the Palestinians to be flexible and accept the economic or political plan?
I think it’s premature. The region doesn’t know what’s in the plan so it would be unfair to ask them to push the Palestinians into something, and the region doesn’t want to push the Palestinians, they want to help the Palestinians. Bahrain was an example of how the region got together, and no matter how the people among the Palestinian leadership are talking about the Bahrain workshop and how it “failed,” it didn’t fail. We actually view it as successful. The region came together with business leaders from around the world to understand what Jared Kushner put together with some very skilled people from the US government, and it’s an example to the Palestinians of what could be if we get to the end of the political conflict. What’s being said is that it’s an economic piece only… that’s not true. It’s an economic plan coupled with a political plan. If we succeed in the political plan, the economic plan will be implemented. There is no political plan without an economic plan that makes sure that the Palestinian people are taken care of in the days, weeks, months, and years later.
Jared Kushner mentioned in a conference call last week that he would announce the next steps of the political plan this week. Do you have anything to announce about the political plan?
I think his words were misconstrued, I wasn’t on the call but I don’t think he intended to say “steps on the political plan,” what he meant was the next steps on the economic plan. We created a workshop, and now we want feedback from all of those who came to the workshop, and we also want to get feedback from the Palestinian leadership. Now, they can continue to boycott it and to pretend it wasn’t successful, but all they’re doing is making themselves and their people unsuccessful. We’ll continue to work, we’ll continue to try and reach a peace agreement, we’ll continue to try and better the lives of the Palestinians, no matter what they say, but if they want to continue to be stubborn and pretend that we’re not trying to help, that’s their prerogative. It’s a shame for their people.
In your tweets, you sound very angry with the Palestinian Authority.
Are you talking about the “pay to slay” ones today? I think it’s tragic, they’re paying salaries at half the amount of money, these hard-working civil servants are getting so little money. They’re not paying for health care, which they blame the US for. Use your money to help your people! Do not use your money to reward terrorists, that’s not the way to run something. And by the way, if we reach a peace agreement, those games are over. You cant have a successful society if that is what your society is based on. I don’t think that’s what the general Palestinian public wants. I think that’s a warped view from the days of old. It’s not going to work.
Is there any kind of communication behind the scenes with the Palestinians? There are some rumors that Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian intelligence is coming to Washington to meet you and the team in the White House.
It’s not true, I read the article in the Israeli paper that said that. It’s not true. A spokesman for the PA denied it and they are accurate. I have a lot of respect for Majed, we worked together in 2017, but there is no official contact since the end of 2017, but there is no official contact since then. I wish he were coming to speak to me, but it’s not true.
Some reports say that you were supposed to announce the political plan after the Israeli election. Is that true?
President Trump has not made a decision yet. We have a choice, right before the election, after the election before the government is formed, or after the government is formed. The first time we waited for the process, unfortunately now we are in a second process, but we are analyzing it and the president hasn’t made a decision yet.
Ehud Barack, who supports the two-state solution has announced that he is entering the Israeli election race. Some say that if you announce the political plan before the September election, that would indicate that you support the two-state solution. Is it an accurate assumption that you are for the two-state solution?
We don’t use that phrase. Using that phrase leads to nothing. You can't summarize a complex conflict like this with so many layers with a three-word slogan. I now that upsets people, but saying those words does not mean anything. We just ask that the people wait and when they get the 60-page plan they will understand how we think both sides can come out of this conflict in an excellent way, but it will require a lot of hard work. The political plan is separate from the economic plan and is roughly 60 pages.
Can you give any points or hints about it?
I’m afraid not, and let me explain why. Anything we say would lead to someone, or many people, who are against certain aspects of what we might leak out of the plan and start attacking it right away. This is such a delicate process and there is no reason to preview anything and allow people who are against it to start spoiling it. We want to lay out the entire solution, let people read it, and think about it, and say, “wow, this may be challenging, or upsetting, or difficult to compromise on, but look at all these other great things that could really be tremendous for us.” When they take it all in context, we think the criticism will be much more rational, fair, and appropriate. If we keep releasing little pieces, we will be creating months of news stories that will be attacking it for no reason. It doesn’t help our solution, it doesn’t help Israelis, it doesn’t help Palestinians.
In the same conference call, Mr. Kushner said that the political plan will be “pragmatic, fair, and workable.” Especially for the case of the refugees. How can you translate “pragmatic, fair, and workable?”
I think you’re going to have to wait. I would also add “realistic.” All of the talking points of the past have never lead to peace. We think we have taken those talking points and developed them very deeply and thoughtfully into something people will understand. What are the compromises we want to get out of it? It sort of goes back to your question about a two state solution. If we do nothing other than write a couple of points that people have used in the past, where does that get us? It got us nowhere. That’s why we’ve created something so long, so people could really understand what is the solution for refugees, or for all of the core issues. One that people dont talk about enough is what’s the solution for Gaza? How do we, not only handle the terrible suffering of the Gazans, how do we deal with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad? They are among the biggest blockages to the bettering of Palestinian lives. Very few people talk about that. To me that’s as much a core issue as any of the other core issues.
A lot of Israelis, almost 400,000, live in settlements in the West Bank. A Lot of people see that as an obstacle to Palestinian self-governance. You just said you’re not using the phrase “two-state solution.” Does that mean that these Israelis in the settlements will be able to stay there? Or will something else happen to them?
I would say this. First, I prefer to say “neighborhoods and cities,” because they are. “Settlements” is a pejorative term that’s used as a biased form of putting a finger on the scale of one side of the conflict. As to how we resolve it, you’ll have to stay tuned.
What about borders, refugees, security, and all those obstacles?
Our plan covers all those issues and more.
Are you coming with a new vision that wasn’t presented before?
It depends. If you take refugees, most of the vision was a fair and just solution for refugees. What does that really mean? First of all, who really are refugees? How many are there? What is a fair solution? What is a just solution? What is a realistic solution? Do you know how many refugees there are today compared to when that line first appeared? 65,000,000 around the world. Where is the money coming from to help all of these refugees who are suffering? And the Palestinians who are real refugees, of course we want to help them, but there has to be something realistic. The promises that were made to them before cannot be fulfilled. What we've created is something that is good and exciting for them. We have to figure out who they really are. We think it’s an implementable solution. We could spend the next decades talking about this. It’s only going to get harder, not better. There is only a limited amount of money that will help Palestinians in addition to all the other conflicts around the world. Or we could recognize that we’ve created something that isn’t exactly what people wanted, but that we could actually pull off if the two sides are willing to negotiate and get to the finish-line.
Do you think both President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are willing to negotiate and trust each other?
I think we have to build trust between the two sides. Both of them have reasons not to trust each other. I think the prime minsters comments, including recent ones, have been helpful. He said he would be open-minded, that’s all we ask. Palestinian Authority comments are the opposite. President Abbas, I hope he will realize that this is a great opportunity. When members of the Palestinian leadership team say the peace plan will be “born dead,” that’s not helpful, and it’s not helpful to their people. They like to say that we’ve failed. We have not. The US is doing fine. We are trying to help them. Unfortunately it is the Palestinian people who will fail if we fail with this plan. That’s what people who criticize this plan do not realize.
Are you willing to give Palestinians leverage or guarantees that will make them more flexible and accepting of the political plan?
No. That has been tried before. What should make them accept the plan, and the Israelis, is looking at the plan and saying “is this a good solution for our people?” but we are not in the business of paying somebody to come back to the table and then not reach a deal. There’s not upside to that. I don’t mean money, but any “carrots” as the expression is. Are you willing to give carrots? For what. It is in the interest of the US to have a stable and secure Israel, a stable and secure region, which includes the Palestinian people. It’s also in our interest to help the people about the world which includes the Palestinian people. But we are not in the business of giving carrots to the people just to get them to come back to the table. We want to help, but the Palestinian leadership has to take responsibility and ownership of the problem, stop blaming everybody else, come back to the table like professionals, and see if we can get through this problem. But no, we’re not going to pay carrots of any kind to try to get them through this conflict.
Not even an invitation for the Palestinian president to the White House?
If at the right time, when we’re ready to unveil the plan, if that’s the way we decide to do it, we have not decided which way, but certainly President Abbas is the leader of those Palestinians in the West Bank, what I call “Judea and Samaria,” we want them engaged. The best thing for us would be President Abbas sitting here, rolling up his sleeves, and negotiating directly with the prime minister of Israel.
If the Palestinian President asks for some kind of clear vision about the two-state solution, about the obstacles from before about the sovereignty of the Palestinian state, is the Trump administration willing to offer something in that regard? What if the Evangelical Christians a huge portion of Trump’s supporters, are against it?
The first part of the question sounds like the carrots.
So, you’ll say “take it or leave it?”
No. This is a great basis for negotiations, it’s 60 pages, plus the very developed economic plan. Whether it’s here or in Ramallah, Abbas and the Prime Minister of Israel need to read it and negotiate it. I don’t think it’s realistic for us to say “take it or leave it,” I think both sides are going to insist on commenting on it and negotiating it and refining it. As far as the second part of your question, I think Evangelical Christians are huge supporters of Israel. They want what’s best for Israel, which is a peace agreement with the Palestinians. One that the Israeli government, which is a democratically elected government, signs. I think they would support it, but I would say that there will be a lot of people against parts of the plan. We are prepared for criticism from everyone, not just the Palestinians. It is unrealistic to think that anyone can put down a plan that won’t be heavily criticized. We just ask for the criticism to be rational and fair and appropriate, not to be irrational or hateful or inappropriate.
Have you discussed this political plan with any of the Arab leaders?
No, they tell us their positions, we float ideas, we have a very good sense of where everyone is. Israelis, Palestinians, Arab leaders, Europeans, and that’s part of the issue. They don’t all agree. We need to decide the timing of the release of our plans and we are in the process of working through those issues right now. We haven’t decided if we are going to discuss the political plan with Arab leaders before releasing it.
We also have a few questions about the economic side of the plan. Part of the economic plan includes provisions like “enabling high-speed data services to the Palestinians.” We are curious how you will get Israel to cooperate with demands like this if Israeli only approved 3G data speed for wireless technology last year.
The 3G service took a long amount of time. We didn’t start that, it was finished under our administration, but it was started during a prior administration. All of these initiated that were in the economic plan will only work if there is a comprehensive peace agreement. These economic provisions will not be implemented without it. It is similar to anything else, both sides are going to have to look at it and if the Israelis are uncomfortable with it, I hope they will be comfortable, we will not be able to pull it off. This whole plan, economic and political, will be presented to both sides and they will have to say what they can and cannot live with and we will work through it to decide how to fix it and make it better. I would be surprised if the Israelis can’t implement high speed data services in the context of this agreement, but I also don’t speak for them on that.
So the Israelis were not consulted on these provisions before?
No, these are our ideas and the less resistant, the more realistically we can pull it off.
Within the West Bank, there are natural resources that Israeli companies use and sell on the global market, like marble, stone and Dead Sea products. Will your plan help Palestinians get any profits from the selling of these natural resources?
I think that our plan, or “vision” as I like to call it, will address all of the issues, including what you speak about.
What will you do if in the end, Israel or the Palestinians, or both, cannot agree and reject the plan?
Great question. The answer is, nothing. People think that the US or the EU or the UN can force a deal. Nobody can force a deal. Either the two sides want to make a deal and will work hard to get there, or they won’t and then the status will continue as-is. It’s one of the reasons we avoid the talking points of the past, because it doesn’t help the two sides. The only thing that will help the two sides is getting into a room, and working with the issues. If we fail, like everyone who came before us, then we fail. Sadly, the Palestinians would continue to live how they live and that’s tragic. How can we prevent that? Hopeful the Palestinian leadership will come to their senses and come back into the room, and work hard to get there. Hopefully the Israeli leadership will work hard to get there too.
So the cost of failure is on the Palestinian side?
Well, Israel is a successful country. Let’s assume that the Palestinians are in the room and that they work hard to get there, the Israelis have a serious security problem they continue to have to live with. Meaning, it’s not that the Israelis get away free also, they have a very difficult, tough security situation to deal with. They want to get through this conflict too. The question for both sides is, are the compromises needed to get through the conflict worth it? The US can’t answer that. Only the Israeli people and the Palestinian people can answer that.