With Contacts Frozen, U.S. and Palestinian Envoys Trade Barbs in Haaretz

With the Palestinian Authority boycotting the Trump administration, Saeb Erekat and Jason Greenblatt have turned to the media to accuse each other of preventing peace

Jason Greenblatt, Assistant to the President, Special Representative for International Negotiations Meet with PM Netanyahu at the PM's office in Jerusalem. June 20, 2017
Matty Stern / U.S.Embassy Tel Aviv

WASHINGTON –  Ever since U.S. President Donald Trump chose last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, his administration has had no official contacts with the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided to boycott the administration, and has refused to meet representatives of the U.S. who visited the Middle East, including Vice President Mike Pence. Last month, Trump's UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, walked out of a UN Security Council discussion while the Palestinian representative was speaking. 

In the absence of official communication between the two sides, they have instead elected to argue with each other about their respective policies in the pages of Haaretz. Three weeks ago, the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, published an article in Haaretz slamming the Trump administration for its Jerusalem decision and for its broader Middle East policy. On Sunday, Trump's special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, shot back at Erekat in his own article, in which he accused Erekat of letting down the Palestinian people. On Monday, Erekat provided an immediate response to Greenblatt's rebuttal in which he dismisses an upcoming American peace plan which was dubbed "deal of the century" by Trump as "nothing less than dictating illegal policies and further violations of international law."

Erekat referred to Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman as "spokespeople for the Israeli occupation" and wrote that the administration's reaction to the killing of demonstrators in Gaza was a "new ethical low for Greenblatt, Friedman and [U.S. Ambassador to the UN] Nikki Haley."

Greenblatt hit back, accusing the Palestinian Authority of stifling other voices within Palestinian society who disagree with Erekat. "I have heard many Palestinian voices over the past 16 months and many don’t agree with Dr. Erekat or his approach," he wrote. "Yet, the sad thing is that most will only meet and speak honestly and openly in private because they are afraid to speak publicly." 

The Trump administration has meanwhile been working on its Middle East peace plan for more than a year now, and is considering publishing it by the end of this month. Very few details of the plan have been reported, and the Palestinians have accused the administration of totally accepting the positions of Israel's right-wing government and ignoring the Palestinian position on the core issues of the conflict. A White House official denied those claims in a conversation with Haaretz, claiming that the administration wants the plan to be "sellable" on both sides. 

In a response to Jason Greenblatt's first rebuttal, however, Erekat said Palestinians have no hope in the plan.

"Whatever this Trump administration suggests for Palestine is not going to be remotely close to achieving a just and lasting peace, but rather a continuation and consolidation of Israeli colonialism and apartheid policies that continue to deny the people of Palestine their very right to exist in their homeland in freedom and dignity," he wrote.  

Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that despite the PA's decision to boycott the Trump administration, at least one high-level meeting between American and Palestinian officials has taken place since the beginning of 2018. This meeting included Majid Faraj, the head of the PA intelligence services, and Mike Pompeo, currently the U.S. secretary of state but head of the CIA at the time. Palestinian sources told Haaretz that security and intelligence ties between the two sides continue despite the political disconnect, and that this was the context for the Faraj-Pompeo meeting in Washington.