Israel Pulse

Will Greenblatt’s resignation hurt Netanyahu?

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Article Summary
Seniors in the Netanyahu government regret the resignation of US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, whom Jerusalem considers an ally within the Trump administration.

“The images the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] released of Hizballah’s precision-guided missile manufacturing facility INSIDE Lebanon are clear proof of the threat Iran & its proxies pose to Israel.” This tweet by Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump's special envoy to Middle East peace, is one of many where he repeated Israeli messages; expressed full-throated support for Israeli policy led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward Iran, Hezbollah and the Palestinians; and criticized its enemies. His surprising announcement on Sept. 5 that he is resigning from his position eliminates from the regional political game one of Netanyahu’s greatest friends and one of the two main engines behind the Trump administration’s “deal of the century,” which is due to be released following the Israeli election on Sept. 17.

Upon Greenblatt’s resignation announcement, Netanyahu quickly thanked him for his dedication to working “for security and peace” and for not hesitating for a moment “to speak out and tell the truth against all those who spoke ill of the State of Israel. Thank you.”

Senior Likud officials posted warm goodbye greetings for Greenblatt. Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted, “I wish to thank Jason Greenblatt for his efforts in promoting peace, for his uncompromising friendship and commitment to the security and prosperity of the State of Israel and for the joint cooperation in advancing regional initiatives.”

Knesset member and former mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat praised Greenblatt’s dedication “on behalf of the Jewish people” and for “his strong support of our activities on behalf of Jerusalem, the US-Israel relationship.”

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Beyond these greetings and thanks, Israel has some concerns about the departure of the American envoy. A close associate of Netanyahu told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Greenblatt served as a point of contact between the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem and the White House. Trump saw him as one of his loyalists and someone he could trust with his eyes closed since he was previously his personal lawyer.

On the other hand, the source noted, Greenblatt was considered persona non grata among the Palestinian leadership “since he arrived at meetings with them prepared and confronted them with data that didn’t sit with their claims and demands. They [the Palestinians] claimed all the time that he presents the positions of the settlers and the Israeli right-wing of the coalition.” In this respect, said the source, Greenblatt, in fact, showed the Palestinians the Trump administration’s commitment to Israel, but at the same time caused them to entrench themselves in their positions and respond inflexibly to any step he initiated, even if it was positive for them.

This is an interesting statement from Netanyahu’s associate. It may attest to the deal of the century’s imminent release and an Israeli desire to convince the Palestinians not to reject it out of hand. Indeed, in a roundabout way, the associate of Netanyahu nearly commended Greenblatt’s departure from the picture, hinting it would allow the Palestinians to be less antagonist to the administration and its plans.

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official who is involved in contacts with the Palestinians and preparations for the release of the Trump peace plan presents another position in a conversation with Al-Monitor. According to him, it may be that Greenblatt’s resignation, in fact, portends the weakness of the plan, perhaps because of differences of opinion between Greenblatt and others involved in formulating the plan at the State Department. “We know,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, “that there were differences of opinion in the administration regarding the date of the plan’s release, whether to wait for a government to form in Israel and for Netanyahu, or not to wait. There are those in the State Department who see the American conduct regarding the deal of the century as aiding Netanyahu in the election, not to say coordinating with him." The source added, "In any case, Israel lost a close friend and a big fan who actually presented the Israeli stance just as well as the Israeli representatives themselves.”

A senior Likud minister who is very involved in the issue told Al-Monitor Greenblatt is a significant figure for all that is related to Israel-US relations and is considered one of the central pillars of the deal of the century and Israel’s contacts with the Persian Gulf states. “Since he’s an experienced lawyer, this really helped in formulating understandings and agreements,” the senior minister said on condition of anonymity, adding, “He’s very accepted at the ruling courts of the Gulf States.” In his estimation, the Trump peace plan won’t be damaged because “it’s already prepared and formulated, and Greenblatt announced that he’ll resign only after it’s presented.”

The senior minister estimates the plan will be presented after the Sept. 17 election. He said, “The preliminary move in Bahrain succeeded [the release of the plan’s economic component], but it’s completely clear that with all respect to the excellent ideas in the economic plan, it won’t be launched if there isn’t a simultaneous advancement in the diplomatic component.”

The senior minister estimated further that the plan’s release will influence the formation of the next Israeli government. “The release could justify the establishment of a unity government, since Netanyahu won’t be able to advance anything with partners like the Yamina (Rightward) party, since one of its leaders, Bezalel Smotrich, already announced that his party’s entering the coalition will be stipulated on the deferral of the deal of the century and preclusion of any discussion of it. Netanyahu will prefer a coalition with [Labor-Gesher head] Amir Peretz and [Blue and White head] Benny Gantz in order to advance with the Trump peace plan, and if it indeed succeeds in the end, he — Netanyahu — will be crowned as one of the greatest leaders of the State of Israel.”

The senior minister further said the Palestinians rejected Greenblatt mostly because of his sharp statements toward them and his criticism of their policies. “They’re probably celebrating at the Muqaata in Ramallah [the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank] right now,” he said.

The opposition parties did not react at all to Greenblatt’s resignation. Their spokespersons also kept silent when asked about the issue. This silence indicates the diplomatic issue is almost inexistent at the current election campaign and the opposition parties prefer to focus on Netanyahu’s personalities and suspicions against him.

On the other hand, differences in opinion among senior Israeli officials as to the impact of Greenblatt’s resignation on the deal of the century attest to the complexity of the diplomatic picture and to the fact that no scenario can be discounted. In any case, for the Palestinians, it seems his resignation provides an opening, perhaps, for changes in the plan that will at least bring them to discuss it.

Found in: palestinians, resignation, israeli foreign policy, deal of the century, idf, blue and white, benjamin netanyahu, jason greenblatt

Danny Zaken is a journalist who works for the Israeli public radio station Kol Israel. Zaken has covered military and security affairs, West Bank settlers and Palestinian topics. He was a Knight Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan and completed the BBC Academy's journalism program. Zaken lecturers on media and journalism at the Hebrew University, the Mandel School and the Interdiscinplinary Center Herzliya. He is the former chair of the Jerusalem Journalists Association.

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