Trump envoy, Palestinian mediator trade barbs in media

2018-06-11 13:27

President Donald Trump's special Mideast envoy lashed out at a veteran Palestinian official on Sunday, saying his "false claims" and rhetoric haven't brought peace closer.

Jason Greenblatt was responding in Israel's Haaretz newspaper to an earlier op-ed by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accusing American officials of acting as "spokespeople" for Israel and criticising the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

The exchange comes shortly before the Trump administration is expected to unveil its Middle East peace plan. Trump has promised to pursue the "ultimate deal" between Israelis and Palestinians.

Greenblatt wrote that Erekat's claims "were in many respects simply inaccurate".

Erekat had condemned the US for the embassy move noting it occurred amid violence along the Gaza border, just 70km away.

On the day of its opening in Jerusalem an estimated 59 Palestinians were killed in Gaza at a mass rally led by the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the territory.

The use of potentially lethal force at the weekly protests has drawn international criticism. Israel accuses Hamas of using demonstrators as human shields while trying to carry out attacks and says it is defending its sovereign border and communities nearby.

Erekat wrote that the contrast between the two events that day "aptly demonstrates the complete US and Israeli denial of the Palestinian history of dispossession".

Greenblatt struck back on Sunday.

"For far too long, the United States has turned a deaf ear to such words, but ignoring hateful and false words has not brought peace and it will never bring peace," he wrote.

"While some protesters were peaceful, many were quite violent. In fact, by Hamas' own admission, more than 80% of those killed were Hamas operatives."

He reiterated Trumps' declaration on Jerusalem that boundaries of Israeli sovereignty are to be determined in peace negotiations and that the US supports the status quo at a Jerusalem holy site that is revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Palestinians saw the decision as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and say it disqualifies the US from its traditional role of Mideast peace broker.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to key sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, in the 1967 war. Palestinians claim the territory for its future capital. Israel claims the entire city as its eternal capital.

'Afraid to speak publicly'

The fate of the city is an emotional issue at the heart of the conflict.

"The notion that Israel is going away - or that Jerusalem is not its capital - is a mirage. The notion that the United States is not the critical interlocutor for the peace process is a mirage," Greenblatt wrote.

US officials say the administration intends to release the peace plan in mid-to-late June, shortly after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

They say Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Greenblatt have already begun quietly briefing select allies and partners on elements of the proposal.

However, the prospect of Palestinian interest in the peace proposal appears dim. Peace talks have been frozen since 2014, and the Palestinians have little faith in the Trump administration which they view as biased toward Israel.

Greenblatt wrote that over the past 16 months in his position he has heard many Palestinian voices that disagree with Erekat's approach but are "afraid to speak publicly".

"Dr Erekat - we have heard your voice for decades and it has not achieved anything close to Palestinian aspirations or anything close to a comprehensive peace agreement. Other Palestinian perspectives might help us finally achieve a comprehensive peace agreement where Palestinian and Israeli lives can be better," Greenblatt wrote.

Erekat fired back with another article in Haaretz on Sunday evening rebuking Trump's special envoy over his negotiation efforts.

He said Greenblatt's discourse was akin to leaders of the far right in Israel. "It is not the rhetoric of a US official tasked with supporting the interests of peace in the region," he wrote.

"In dozens of meetings we had with Mr Greenblatt he refused to discuss substance: no borders, no settlements, and no two-state solution. Today, his role is nothing less than peddling Israeli policies to a sceptical international community, and then becomes upset when he's reminded of this," Erekat wrote.

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