WASHINGTON (AP) — The architect of the Trump administration's delayed Mideast peace plan is leaving the White House in the face of widespread skepticism about the viability of the as-yet unseen proposal and questions about whether the vision for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will ever be released.
Jason Greenblatt, a long-time lawyer for the Trump Organization who became the president's special envoy for international negotiations, announced his departure Thursday, saying he would return to the private sector in the coming weeks and spend more time with his family in New Jersey.
Greenblatt had worked closely with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, on developing the peace plan.
Despite his title and spending nearly three years in the post, Greenblatt never participated in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, who cut off ties with the administration after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Instead, his role had been to draft the plan, and officials said that has now been finished.
The White House says the peace plan won't be released until at least after this month's Israeli elections. Tentative plans to release the proposal had been scrapped at least twice before. The plan already is facing rejection by the Palestinians, who have accused the administration of losing its credibility as an honest broker by repeatedly siding with Israel.
Greenblatt had advocated for the decisions to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — moves that drew anger and skepticism from Palestinians and Arab nations. He had also led the administration's push to cut U.S. funding for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, arguing before the world body that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency is corrupt, encourages anti-Israel sentiment and is prolonging the conflict.
"It has been the honor of a lifetime to have worked in the White House for over two and a half years under the leadership of President Trump," Greenblatt said in a statement. "I am incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace. This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region."
In a tweet, Trump thanked Greenblatt for his service and said his "dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won't be forgotten."
Kushner praised Greenblatt and said his "work has helped develop the relationships between Israel and its neighbors as he is trusted and respected by all of the leaders throughout the region."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Greenblatt "for his dedicated work on behalf of security and peace, and for not hesitating for a moment to speak out and tell the truth against all those who spoke ill of her."
Martin Indyk, who served as Mideast peace envoy during President Barack Obama's second term, called Greenblatt "a decent and well-intentioned person who dedicated himself to an effort that was hopeless from the outset. That he failed like the rest of us is less important than that he tried."
The Palestinian reaction was dismissive.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians will "shed no tears" over Greenblatt's departure.
"He ruined the credibility of the United States and destroyed the peace process," Abu Rdeneh said.
The White House announced that Greenblatt would be replaced by one of Kushner's top aides, Avi Berkowitz, who has been traveling with the peace team throughout the Middle East as they put together the plan.
Apart from securing tacit support from some Gulf Arab states, the team's only visible accomplishment has been the release of a $50 billion economic proposal for the West Bank, Gaza and Palestinian communities in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
That plan was rolled out at a workshop in Bahrain in June that was boycotted by the Palestinian Authority. Despite the plan's lofty goals, no money for the projects it envisions has been secured.
The low-key Greenblatt stepped up his public engagement ahead of the announcement of the economic plan, but his comments were perhaps most notable for criticizing Palestinian leaders, particularly chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, on Twitter.
"It's the end of the Administration's Middle East Tweet Process," joked former U.S. diplomat Robert Danin, who spent 20 years working on Mideast issues and has been critical of Trump's approach to the region.
In contrast to its Democratic and Republican predecessors, the Trump White House has stopped promoting a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and avoided condemning Israeli settlement expansion on occupied lands.
The Jerusalem move, followed by cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, prompted the Palestinians to sever most ties with the U.S.
The White House peace effort initially operated largely in isolation from the rest of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. But as Greenblatt's departure has approached, the White House has begun integrating it with the State Department's Iran team.
In addition to Berkowitz, Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran, is expected to assume some of Greenblatt's duties.
Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.