Trump’s top Middle East negotiator urges Palestinians back to table

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s top Middle East peace negotiator, said efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace were still underway and urged the Palestinians to return to the table.

Greenblatt delivered his appeals twice this week, once at a key policy conference in Israel and then at a special meeting of a funding committee for the Palestinians.

“The United States is as committed as ever to reaching an agreement that guarantees a peaceful prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians, that’s why this administration continues to work on developing a peace plan that can bring both parties to the table,” Greenblatt said in an address to the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. The conference draws security officials from Israel, the Palestinian areas, the United States and other countries.

“It is easy to walk away from the table,” he said, “but that helps no one and reduces or perhaps even eliminates the chances of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement, and that would be terrible for the Palestinian people.”

Trump last week suggested he might abandon his bid to advance peace should the Palestinians not return to talks.

The Palestinians have snubbed the Trump administration’s bid to restart the peace talks since Dec. 5, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Greenblatt said the recognition of Jerusalem was not an attempt to determine a final status outcome, as the Palestinians have charged.

“When President Trump made his historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he was not rewriting history, he was recognizing a historic reality,” he said. “The president was absolutely clear that the United States has not prejudged any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

Greenblatt also made the appeal at a meeting in Brussels of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a grouping of countries and entities committed to advancing the Middle East peace process.

Greenblatt last year asked the committee to serve as a forum to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas terrorist group is in control. He said on Wednesday there has been little progress, and laid much of the blame on Hamas.

“We need to do more to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the central focus of today’s discussion,” he said. “President Trump truly wants to help. The people of Gaza continue to suffer under the authoritarian rule of Hamas, which has consistently prevented the development of major electricity and water projects in Gaza by refusing to pay the Palestinian Authority for the services it already provides.”

Greenblatt rejected claims that the Trump administration was frustrating development because of Trump’s threat to cut funding to the Palestinians because of their lack of cooperation in peace talks.

“The United States has been the single largest donor to the Palestinians in history,” he said. “As such, no one should be lecturing us about our financial assistance.”

Among those hand present at the Brussels meeting was Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah marking the first time a Palestinian official has worked with U.S. officials since Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. Greenblatt thanked Hamdallah for attending, although it did not constitute a re-entry of the Palestinians into consultations about a peace plan.

“I am particularly pleased to see you Prime Minister Hamdallah – I hope as a sign of the Palestinian Authority’s continued commitment to the process which we have undertaken together,” he said.

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