The US Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, has said that Israel is the "victim" in its conflict with the Palestinians and that he "cannot think of single instances" when Israel made a mistake.
In an interview aired yesterday by US broadcaster PBS, Greenblatt was asked what responsibility Israel bears for its now 71-year-old conflict with the Palestinians. The US envoy replied:
I think that Israel is actually more the victim than the party that's responsible. From the moment of its formation, they were attacked multiple times. They continue to be attacked with terrorism. So — I'm not sure I understand the premise of the question.
He added that he "cannot think of single instances" in which Israel made a mistake or overstepped its authority, saying: "I think that they're trying their best to succeed. They have actually succeeded in many ways, especially economically, under very, very trying circumstances."
Greenblatt also doubled down on previous comments in which he argued Israel's illegal settlements should be referred to as "neighbourhoods and cities", saying that the term "settlements" is "pejorative".
On the occupied West Bank – where over 500 illegal settlements are located – and the besieged Gaza Strip, the envoy said: "I would argue that the land is disputed. It needs to be resolved in the context of direct negotiations between the parties. Calling it occupied territory does not help resolve the conflict."
Under international law, both the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain classified as occupied territories.
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Greenblatt's comments are the latest in a series of controversial remarks that have drawn fierce criticism and rebuke of the US envoy.
Earlier this month, Greenblatt came under fire after criticising the Palestinian Authority (PA) for failing to provide adequate funds for a Palestinian child's blood cancer medication. This came after Gaza-based Palestinian journalist Fathi Sabbah accused PA Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, and Ahmed Abu Houli, a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), of reneging on promises to assist with his daughter Rima's treatment.
This prompted Greenblatt to write on Twitter: "Mr. Shtayyeh, how about keeping your word & paying for Rima's treatment? The PA has the funds and it would be a wise and compassionate use of them. Mr. Sabbah, my thoughts are with you and your family. I pray Rima will have a full and speedy recovery."
Twitter users – including Sabbah – were quick to point out the irony of Greenblatt blaming the PA for the family's plight while ignoring Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip, regular refusal to grant exit visas for medical treatment, and the US' almost-unconditional support for Israel.
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The US envoy – who is one of the chief architects of the US' long-awaited "deal of the century" – has also made a number of provocative claims about Israel's policy in the occupied West Bank.
In June, Greenblatt 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 backed 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."
His comments have been interpreted as an effort to normalise discussion of Israel's annexation of the West Bank, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed ahead of the country's April general election that he would annex the territory if he were re-elected.
Though the political elements of the "deal of the century" have not yet been unveiled, the plan is not expected to demand that Israel dismantle its West Bank settlements. Though the US has not yet changed its policy on annexation, the precedent set by President Donald Trump's recognition of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli could pave the way for a similar move in the West Bank.
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