One of the top envoys to US President Donald Trump, Jason Greenblatt, has said that he prefers to call Israel's illegal West Bank settlements "neighbourhoods and cities".
The US Special Representative for International Negotiations made the comments while addressing the "Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israel Relation," which was held in Jerusalem yesterday.
Discussing the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine, Greenblatt said that "we might get there if people stop pretending settlements, or what I prefer to call 'neighbourhoods and cities,' are the reason for the lack of peace".
Israel currently has over 500 settlements across the occupied West Bank, which are inhabited by approximately one million settlers. These settlements are illegal under international law, which forbids the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory.
Many of these settlements have grown into "settlement blocs", which extend far beyond the Green Line and cut deep into the West Bank, engulfing land on which any future Palestinian state will be built. The question of what to do with these settlements has proved a stumbling block in several peace negotiations, with the Oslo Accords designating the settlements a "final status" issue to be resolved at a later date.
Greenblatt did not explicitly provide an alternative "reason for the lack of peace", but implied that the Palestinians were at fault. The US envoy used his speech to lambast the Palestinian Authority (PA) for its decision to boycott this week's "Peace to Prosperity" conference – which discussed the economic aspects of the long-awaited "deal of the century" in Bahraini capital Manama – saying: "It is a shame that the Palestinian Authority chose not to attend [the conference] and tried to convince others not to attend. They distorted our [the US'] message and attempted to undermine our progress but they did not succeed."
Greenblatt is no stranger to controversial statements. Earlier this month, the US envoy stood behind comments made by US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, in which the latter stated Israel has "the right" to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
Friedman told the New York Times that "under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank", provoking international outcry and prompting the Palestinian Foreign Ministry to consider filing a complaint against the ambassador at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Greenblatt doubled down on Friedman's stance, saying: "I will let David's comments stand for themselves. I think he said them elegantly and I support his comments." For his part, Friedman has also refused to back down, since claiming he does "not understand why this issue was faced with such criticism. There is no scenario in which Israel is leaving the whole West Bank".