Another West Wing departure leaves Kushner taking point on Middle East peace

Official: Presidential son-in-law, ‘a few others’ will try to fill void left by Greenblatt’s exit

Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump, steps out of the vice president's office in the Senate Reception Room to take a phone call. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump, steps out of the vice president's office in the Senate Reception Room to take a phone call. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 5, 2019 at 12:54pm

President Donald Trump announced White House Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt is leaving the administration, essentially handing presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner the task of completing an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

“Jason has been a loyal and great friend and fantastic lawyer……..His dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be forgotten. He will be missed,” Trump tweeted in announcing Greenblatt’s departure.

Greenblatt and Kushner released the economic part of a Middle East peace plan earlier this year that was immediately rejected by Palestinian leaders and congressional Democrats; Republican members were notably silent about the blueprint.

The White House has yet to make public its more tricky political peace plan, which must lay out resolution to myriad thorny issues.

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Greenblatt’s departure means Kushner is expected to take the point position on completing the political plan.

A White House official said “a few other people will also be working on it,” and did not dispute that the State Department’s Avi Berkowitz is expected to take on a bigger role in helping Kushner with the complex policy portfolio.

“Jason has done a tremendous job leading the efforts to develop an economic and political vision for a long sought after peace in the Middle East,” Kushner said in a statement provided by the White House. “His work has helped develop the relationships between Israel and its neighbors as he is trusted and respected by all of the leaders throughout the region.”

The White House’s final Middle East plan is expected to exclude a call for a so-called “two-state solution” that would create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“In my decades working on this issue, I have yet to see any plan other than the two-state solution that would ensure that Israel remains both majority Jewish and democratic, and addresses and advances the rights and the dignity of the Palestinian people,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, said in June.

Engel and other Democrats are concerned the White House’s final Middle East blueprint will fall far short of a two-state solution. What Kushner and Greenblatt have been cobbling together is a plan under which the Palestinians would get what would amount to a rump state: It reportedly would lack full sovereignty, but Palestinians would receive economic development assistance in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. On the other hand, Israel would maintain control of Jerusalem and most — if not all — of its settlements.

The Palestinians have roundly rejected what details of the peace plan the White House has released or leaked, and most countries in the region have been cool to the plan’s outlines.

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Greenblatt is the latest high-level official to leave Trump’s White House or administration.

Presidential historian Martha Joynt Kumar and analysts at the Brookings Institution both have called the 45th president’s staff turnover rate historically high.

“Changes can have some clear downsides,” according to Brookings’ Kathryn Dunn Tenpas. “Turnover … deprives the White House of the previous incumbent’s personal relationships. While a replacement may be able to reclaim those relationships, or at least some of them, to the degree the relationships cannot be replaced, too much turnover can be a hindrance for a new administration and its pursuit of policy goals.

“Finally, a high-level departure may have a domino effect, since some or all of those who worked most closely with the departing staff member often leave as well, voluntarily or otherwise,” she wrote in a white paper. “One high-level departure can result in two, three, or more staff members following suit.”

Amid a steady exodus of key officials since he took office that has resulted in a slew of acting senior officials and vacancies, Trump last year said this: “At a certain point everyone sort of leaves, you have to leave. I’m sort of just standing like a ship, just keep going, bing, bing.”

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.

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