By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy is accusing the Palestinian leadership of trying to kill the U.S. president’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan even before its unveiling and urges them instead to hold fire until they see the details, saying it would be a mistake to declare it “dead on arrival.”
In an interview with Reuters, Jason Greenblatt, a chief architect of what Trump has called the “deal of the century,” pushed back against Palestinian officials’ rebuke of the coming peace proposals that they believe will be heavily biased in favour of Israel and deliver a blow to their goal of statehood.
The Palestinian Authority has boycotted the U.S. peace effort, led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, since late 2017 when the Republican president decided to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of U.S. policy.
Greenblatt and Kushner are heading a team preparing to roll out the long-awaited plan as early as June. They intend to proceed despite deep scepticism among experts that they can succeed where decades of U.S.-backed efforts have failed. However, further delays are always possible, given Middle East volatility, including tensions from recent Gaza violence.
“The Palestinian Authority is trying to kill a plan they haven’t seen,” said Greenblatt, who has openly exchanged criticism with senior Palestinian officials via Twitter. “The plan can offer them something that can be exciting to them and can transform their current situation ... They should sit tight and hold their fire until the plan comes out.”
“For any side to say it’s dead on arrival and not give it a lot of attention and hard work is a tremendous missed opportunity," he told Reuters this week.
Though the plan's authors insist the exact contents are known only to a handful of insiders, Trump’s aides have disclosed it will address the major political issues of the long-running conflict such as the status of Jerusalem and also offer prescriptions for the troubled Palestinian economy.
They have said they expect Israelis and Palestinians will both be critical of some of the proposals.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a meeting at the United Nations attended by Greenblatt on Thursday that the United States seemed to be crafting a plan for a Palestinian surrender to Israel and insisted “there's no amount of money that can make it acceptable.”
SIDE-STEPPING 'TWO-STATE' QUESTION
Chief among the Palestinians’ concerns is whether the plan will meet their core demand of calling for them to have an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Kushner, a real estate developer before becoming a senior Trump adviser, has declined to say whether the plan includes a two-state solution, a central goal of other recent peace efforts that is widely endorsed internationally.
Echoing Kushner’s remarks last week to a Washington think tank, Greenblatt - a former lawyer for the Trump Organization - said: “We don’t use this label, this phrase, because it means different things to different people. The detailed plan will show what we think is the best solution for the two parties.”
The Trump administration has sought to enlist support from Arab governments. The plan is likely to call for billions of dollars in financial backing for the Palestinians, mostly from oil-rich Gulf states, according to people informed about the discussions.
Some U.S. officials have privately suggested the animus towards Shi’ite Iran that Sunni Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, share with Israel could give Trump leverage to secure broader Arab backing for the plan in order to appease Washington, which has been ratcheting up pressure on Tehran.
Greenblatt said that while Israel and U.S. Arab allies are increasingly in alignment over their common foe Iran, “this isn’t the secret sauce” for winning Arab support. “The deal has to work for everyone,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has assured Arab allies it would not endorse any U.S. plan that fails to meet key Palestinian concerns.
Asked what would happen if the peace effort fails, Greenblatt said: “If they can’t get to the finish line, I get it. These issues are tough. The conflict is extraordinarily complicated and there are many potential spoilers.”
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish)