Trump aide begins diplomacy by Twitter with Palestinian officials after year of silence

Breakdown in communication with Trump administration since US president recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Ruth Eglash
Sunday 03 February 2019 19:10
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Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations has begun tweeting Palestinian officials more than a year after they last agreed to meet or even speak with representatives of the US administration.

Over the past few weeks, Jason Greenblatt has been tweeting his thoughts, requests and criticisms to Palestinian leaders who are active on the popular social media platform.

And on Saturday, he seemed to confirm his new brand of tweet-diplomacy, writing: “And who says the US and the PA aren't talking? The only difference now is that we are speaking about these matters in public via twitter so the public can understand everyone's positions. Transparency is better for all.”

Since December 2017, when Mr Trump announced he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and transfer the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv – a move considered highly controversial and one-sided by the Palestinians – leaders and peace negotiators from the Palestinian side have waved off all US diplomatic efforts.

Despite the cold shoulder, the US administration says it has forged ahead with what Mr Trump once described as “the deal of the century” to solve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In recent weeks, there has been speculation that this improbable peace plan will be unveiled following Israel's general election, which takes place on 9 April. There has been no official indication of it, however.

In fact, there has been little indication of any aspect of the plan, and any suggestions of what it might contain have immediately been denied by Mr Greenblatt.

It was such a denial that kicked off this latest round of tweet-diplomacy on 17 January.

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported and tweeted that he had some details about the opaque peace plan. Mr Ravid's report immediately sparked a response from Mr Greenblatt:

“While I respect @BarakRavid, his report on Israel's Ch. 13 is not accurate. Speculation about the content of the plan is not helpful. Very few people on the planet know what is in it ... for now ...”

A few days later, as people on Twitter discussed what might or might not be accurate about the points raised by Mr Ravid and Mr Greenblatt's brush off, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, tweeted:

“You need a large grain of salt to believe any leak from Israeli sources, especially in the context of elections rhetoric. Anyway this has been vehemently denied by @jdgreenblatt45. Hypotheticals & red herrings to distract & divert. The US administration has zero credibility.”

Greenblatt promptly responded: “@DrHananAshrawi: you may dislike our policies & decisions, but to say we have ”zero credibility“ is simply not factual. @POTUS has kept his commitments, such as recognizing #Jerusalem as the capital of #Israel & moving our Embassy to #Jerusalem.”

The message was followed by a long thread that seemed to shine a spotlight on the Trump administration's frustrations with the Palestinian leadership for its continual refusal to to meet with or speak to US officials.

Since moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem last May, the administration has further alienated the Palestinians by cutting back on almost all avenues of aid and funding, even to the point where the financial lifeline that supports the Palestinian Security Forces – essential for assisting the Israelis in maintaining security and peace in the area – also looks set to end.

This contentious point was highlighted Friday by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He said the cutbacks would have a negative impact on all and increase instability.

Almost immediately, Mr Greenblatt responded on Twitter: “Disingenuous quote from Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Abbas: 'The suspension of aid to our people, which included critical sectors such as health and education, will have a negative impact on all, create a negative atmosphere, and increase instability.' ”

That was followed by another long stream of tweets explaining why the aid was cut – mostly, said Greenblatt, because the Palestinians refused to take responsibility and engage in change:

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“Mr Abu Rudeineh: time to get serious. Either work on peace and/or work on helping Palestinians. The old messages and methods don't work anymore – not with the US, and not with many other countries. It's only a matter of time until other countries say this out loud too.”

Mr Greenblatt highlighted comments made recently by other prominent Palestinian leaders who have been highly critical of the United States, eventually working his way back to Dr Ashrawi, who appeared to have called the American adviser out on his new brand of online diplomacy:

“Twitter diplomacy/policy is the triumph of narrow minds, anaemic intellects & minuscule attention spans, precluding thorough & responsible analytical/critical interactions that are honest, contextual & insightful. We are witnessing the global ramifications of this failure.”

To which Mr Greenblatt responded: “Dr Ashrawi – my door is always open to the PA & Palestinians to speak. In fact, I've met many Palestinians over the past 14 months & continue to. I'm happy to meet anytime – you, Saeb (Erekat) &all your colleagues are ALWAYS welcome to visit me at the @WhiteHouse to speak in person.”

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