Less than two weeks before the second parliamentary election in Israel this year, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt abruptly announced his resignation. This raised new political concerns in Washington and various Middle Eastern capitals about the credibility and durability of the United States’ pursuit of peace in the region. The sudden departure of a key architect of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited “deal of the century,” parts of which Trump suggested at the G7 meeting in France might be disseminated before the September 17 election in Israel, seems to have quickly evolved into the “resignation of the century.”
The Greenblatt resignation was apparently leaked to the media in the morning hours of September 5 and reported by several news outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. The official confirmation of the resignation came, in typical fashion, as a tweet by President Trump that his envoy and “great friend” would be leaving the administration “to pursue work in the private sector.”
On the surface, the departure of Greenblatt is of limited practical significance in the sense that he is the 65th member of the Trump Administration who has resigned or been fired since January 20, 2017. However, in light of the key role he played at this White House as a member of the narrowly staffed peace negotiations team, Greenblatt’s proximity to the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, coupled with the surprising timing of the resignation all raise significant questions about both the rationale and the timing of this action.
What prompted this drastic and unexpected step by Greenblatt? Does his resignation reveal serious differences among members of the team, or between them and President Trump? More significantly, has the impending release of the political component of the Kushner plan led to the emergence of some serious internal disagreements about Israel’s role or its anticipated response to the revised plan, pending the results of the Israeli election? Might these differences have made it difficult for Greenblatt to continue in his role of securing Israeli interests as he defines them? And finally, with regard to timing, why would Greenblatt resign just a few days before the dramatic “grand opening” of the show he has been directing for the past three years?
No one seems to have complete answers to all these questions except Jason Greenblatt himself. The public might have to wait till he publishes his memoirs about “the challenges of peacemaking in the Middle East,” after securing a cushy position at a place like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy or another well-paying think tank in Washington. Perhaps his colleagues at the White House have an idea about the reasons for his departure; however, they are not expected to reveal the truth to the American public about this ordeal or any other change within the Trump Administration or its policies. After all, transparency has not been one of their hallmarks.
Suffice it to say that the manner and timing of the resignation indicate—to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet—that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and this time, it has nothing to do with the sale of Greenland. First, regardless of its rationale, the resignation undermines a policy proposal that has failed to win the buy-in and support of a broad constituency of states in the region. Second, it weakens an already questionable team lacking in diplomatic skills and regional political experience. Reports from the White House indicate that Avi Berkowitz, Kushner’s protégé, will assume some of Greenblatt’s responsibilities, which further diminishes the credibility of the team. Indeed, the headline of an article in New York Magazine illustrates this most absurd personnel move: “Trump Somehow Replaces Unqualified Mideast Envoy with Even Less Qualified One.” In sum, the resignation of a key architect of the Kushner plan, for which the potential for success is limited even under normal circumstances, is apt to diminish such prospects even further at this difficult juncture, in both Washington and Tel Aviv.