Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Greenblatt Hopes Both Parties Will Read Peace Plan Carefully and Not Make Hasty Decisions

Greenblatt Hopes Both Parties Will Read Peace Plan Carefully and Not Make Hasty Decisions

Wednesday, 2 October, 2019 - 11:30
Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. AFP file photo

Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who spent nearly three years trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiation table, made last month a sudden decision to resign, before he even got a chance to show the world the policy that he secretly shaped. His resignation opened the door to a lot of speculations that the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan may not be fully revealed or is doomed to fail.

The Trump administration had said it would release the plan, dubbed the deal of the century, in the days following the Sept. 17 election in Israel, though no date has been announced.

Here is the full text of Greenblatt’s interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper:

* What prompted the sudden announcement of your departure?

This was not really a sudden announcement. My family and I were mulling over this decision for a long time. I originally intended to take this position for around two years. It's very hard on my family to be separated all week ... Among my primary responsibilities was to study the conflict, come up with a vision together with my co-workers, educating people about the conflict, and be out there changing the conversation about the conflict, which has been an enormous priority for us. My role also included connecting Israel with the Arab world in ways I don't think I could have imagined two and a half years ago. We don't take full credit for that - credit is certainly due to the Trump Administration, but also to each of the Arab leaders and Prime Minster Netanyahu who have made this happen. We have now studied the conflict and have completed our vision for peace. I think this is a good time for me to make the transition.

* Skeptics say you're leaving because the plan may not be fully revealed or is doomed to fail. How would you respond?

I've heard a lot of theories about my departure since it was announced. Let me dispel those myths. This has very much a family decision. I am a father; I'm a husband. I have responsibilities, and my family deserves to have me more fully in their lives. I'm proud of the work we've done, but I know I'm leaving it in good hands with Jared Kushner, David Friedman, Brian Hook, Avi Berkowitz, as well as some others. It's still very much a team approach and I look forward to their continued progress and to helping support them from outside of government.

*The plan seems to have been delayed several times. Will it be released any time soon?

We'll release the plan when the time is right and when we think it has the best chance of success. We think both parties - and the whole world, really - want a realistic solution to this conflict. It's our hope that our vision can advance the cause of peace and bring people together to start a productive, realistic discussion - even if it's not embraced immediately. But it's important to remember that nobody can force this vision upon anyone. When the plan is released, it will be up to both sides to decide how to proceed. When the vision is released, we hope that both parties will read it carefully and not make any hasty decisions.

* How would you respond to criticism from some that this administration's decisions are more advantageous for Israel?

I think people conflate the issues. All those decisions - Jerusalem recognition, the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan - were not made only through a peace process lens. Of course, we consider the potential impact on the peace process, but that's only one lens that we put on it. We made those decisions because they are the right decisions for the United States. Jerusalem was done because of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, a law in the United States since 1995; the same thing is true with the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Golan was an essential decision for Israel's security and had nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. Imagine what could have happened to Israel if Syria had control of the Golan. Closing the PLO office was based on a law triggered when President Abbas threatened to bring Israel to the International Criminal Court. Cutting funds to UNRWA was done because UNRWA is a horribly broken system that only perpetuates bad lives for Palestinians who live in refugee camps, and provides them with no future. It is high time for the Palestinians who live in these refugee camps, who are used as political pawns, to have better lives. I think people have to view the decisions separately. We made them and we stand by them. If we did not make these decisions, we would be no closer to peace. With these decisions, we might achieve peace- peace can only be built on truth.

*The US has cut off funding to the PA and you chose not to speak at the most recent Ad-hoc Liaison Committee Conference in New York. Will the US ever restore assistance?

Countries gathered at this bi-annual international donor conference for Palestinians may have been well-intentioned, but their efforts have proven to be ineffective. Palestinians are among the largest recipients of donor assistance per capita in the world today. Yet despite decades of work, billions of dollars, euros, shekels, and dinars donated, life continues to get worse for Palestinians. The world can't continue to throw money and resources at this problem in the same way; when they do, we get the same results we've gotten for decades, which is just continued suffering for Palestinians. Donor countries must ask themselves why they should keep struggling to raise money when everyone can plainly see that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are squandering the opportunities for a better future for Palestinians donor money could provide. The United States won't continue to invest in temporary solutions that only prolong the cycle of suffering and violence. It's time to help Palestinians live better lives. And in that process, hopefully we will also achieve peace.

*In your opinion should there be precondition for any future talks?

No. If we start going down the precondition road, both sides have will have preconditions and we're never going to get anywhere. Whether we agree with one or the other side's preconditions, they have them. We're approaching it differently by saying: Move the preconditions to the side, here's the plan, and in the course of negotiations those preconditions will be addressed. If they cannot be addressed, then they likely will not achieve a peace agreement in any event. That being said, I can't imagine a world in which a peace agreement is signed where issues like the Palestinian Authorities' "Pay to Slay" program remain - a program that rewards terrorists who murder or attack Israelis. It's a basic concept that you cannot encourage people to kill and expect a peace deal that works. I can't imagine the Israeli government ever signing such an agreement. It would make no sense and it's completely antithetical to the concept of peace. To deal with that abhorrent program, the USA has cut all funding to the PA and we continuously raise awareness of this issue to other donor countries. I cannot understand how donor countries continue to donate funds knowing that some of their taxpayers' money is used to fund terrorism and the murder of Israelis.

*Are you optimistic that the region can be stabilized and that the plan can succeed amid growing tension between Washington and Tehran?

I am hopeful, but anyone who understands this conflict knows that there's a tremendous amount of work to be done and difficult decisions to be made by all involved. But it is important to remember that this is not the core conflict of the region. It is a conflict that would be better for the region if it's resolved, but it is not going to resolve all of the other serious threats to the region - most notably, Iran. It's the Iranian regime that is the worlds' largest state-sponsor of terror.

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