A senior U.S. official tasked with finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue told the United Nations Tuesday that international law and consensus are not the keys to resolving the decades-old dispute.
“Those who continue to call for international consensus on this conflict are doing nothing to encourage the parties to sit down at the negotiating table and make the hard compromises necessary for peace,” Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. “In fact, they are doing the opposite – allowing people to hide behind words that mean nothing.”
Greenblatt said that international consensus is often “nothing more than a mask for inaction.”
“So let’s stop kidding ourselves. If a so-called international consensus had been able to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would have done so decades ago. It didn’t,” he said. “This conflict is also not going to be resolved by reference to “international law” when such law is inconclusive.”
Greenblatt also took aim at the Security Council resolutions agreed on the issue since 1967 – all are binding under international law – saying they have not succeeded and would not provide a path to peace.
The council has laid out the basic principles for a negotiated peace in its resolutions, including land-for-peace, affirming the vision of a two-state solution, and endorsing the so-called Quartet’s (U.N., Russia, U.S. and European Union) road map. More recently, in December 2016, it said Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace.
The international community has been awaiting a proposed peace plan from the Trump administration. Greenblatt, along with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, have been working on the proposal for many months.
Greenblatt said Tuesday that Trump has not decided when the political plan would be released, but that when it is, it would not be ambiguous. An economic road map was unveiled to mixed reviews at a conference in Bahrain in late June.
“I ask all of you to reserve judgment until we publish, and you read, the 60 or so pages that detail what peace could look like,” Greenblatt said. “Achieving that vision will require difficult compromises by both parties, if they are willing to make such compromises. But we believe both sides will gain far more than they give.”
He emphasized that a solution could not be forced upon the parties and said, “Unilateral steps in international and multilateral fora will do nothing to solve this conflict.”
The Trump administration came in for widespread international criticism in December 2017 when it took the unilateral step of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing that it would move its embassy there.
Greenblatt raised the issue of Jerusalem, saying that the Palestinians continue to assert that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“But let’s remember, an aspiration is not a right,” Greenblatt said. He then added that his statement should not be interpreted as an indication of the content of the political part of the peace plan.
“Aspirations belong at the negotiating table,” he added. “And only direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians can resolve the issue of Jerusalem, if it can be resolved.”
The status of Jerusalem is seen internationally as a final status issue that must be resolved at the negotiating table.
Several council members took issue with Greenblatt’s demotion of international law and consensus.
“For us, international law is relevant; international law is not futile,” said German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen. “We believe in the force of international law; we do not believe in the force of the strongest.”
He emphasized that council resolutions are binding under international law.
“For us, international law is not menu a la carte,” Heusgen added. He noted that there are many instances where U.S. diplomats insist on the respect and implementation of council resolutions, such as on North Korea.
Russia’s envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, also challenged Greenblatt’s assertions.
“This international consensus is international law, because Security Council resolutions are international law – they merely need to be complied with,” Nebenzia said. “The matter lies not with a lack of international consensus; rather the matter has to do with the fact that there is utter disregard for this internationally-acknowledged consensus by the United States at present.”
While the Trump administration’s peace plan has yet to be delivered, it is seen by some as already dead on arrival, as the Palestinians have rejected Washington’s ability to be an impartial mediator after its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.