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Trump's Middle East adviser Jason Greenblatt stepping down

Greenblatt was key architect of so-called deal of the century, set to be fully disclosed after Israeli elections this month
Jason Greenblatt has been working at White House since early 2017 (AFP/File photo)

One of Donald Trump's senior advisers for the Middle East and a key architect of the United States' so-called deal of the century to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be leaving the administration, the US president confirmed.

Jason Greenblatt is leaving the US administration "to pursue work in the private sector", Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.

A staunch defender of Israel and its illegal settlements in the West Bank, Greenblatt was one of the driving forces behind Trump's long-delayed deal of the century, which has yet to be released in full.

He had served as Trump's bankruptcy lawyer before joining the administration. 

"His dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won't be forgotten. He will be missed," Trump tweeted.

While senior US officials, including Greenblatt, Trump and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner have promoted the proposal, Palestinians have rejected it as an attempt to co-opt their struggle for self-determination.

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Greenblatt thanked Trump on Thursday, saying his role in the administration was "the honour of a lifetime".

"So grateful to have worked on the potential to improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians &others," he wrote on Twitter.

Greenblatt began working in the Trump administration in 2017 and had previously said he intended to stay on for two years, Reuters reported.

It remains unclear when exactly he may be leaving his post.

Citing unidentified US officials, Reuters news agency said he would step down after Washington's long-delayed peace plan is unveiled.

The Trump administration has said it intends to release its proposal after the upcoming Israeli elections on 17 September.

Axios reported that Greenblatt would hand over many of his responsibilities to Kushner's aide, Avi Berkowitz.

Critics ridiculed Berkowitz's inexperience late Thursday. 

"He's Kushner's 29-year-old assistant. Nice guy but does not have the weight or experience of Trump's former real estate lawyer," said Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution, mocking Berkowitz's appointment while also taking a swipe at Greenblatt, who had no experience in government before joining the administration. 

Business Insider cited former White House aide Hope Hicks as saying in 2017 that Berkowitz handled administrative tasks for Kushner, including getting coffee. 

"Trump somehow replaces unqualified Mideast envoy with even less qualified one," New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote in a scathing headline.

Brian Hook, the US special representative on Iran, will also take on an increased role in the Trump administration's peace plan, Reuters reported, citing an administration official.

Greenblatt and Trump on Israel

Greenblatt has been one of the longest-serving members of the Trump administration, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel. 

The administration has said its peace plan aims to bring Palestinian and Israeli leaders together with the promise of financial incentives that would boost the Palestinian economy.

Part of the plan was released in June, but Palestinian political and business leaders boycotted the initiative following some highly controversial policy decisions by the Trump administration. 

The US recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in late 2017 and later moved the US embassy to the city in a highly criticised move that undermined Washington's status as a deal broker.

Trump also cut millions in aid to the Palestinian Authority and aid agencies working in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, he signed a presidential order on 25 March recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is internationally recognised as Syrian land.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump by naming a new illegal settlement in the Golan "Trump Heights" after the US president. 

Observers pointed out on Thursday that Greenblatt has supported Trump's Israel policies throughout his term. 

"Jason Greenblatt's departure changes nothing," Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Arab American Institute, said on Twitter.

"This administration's policy was promoting Israel's land-theft & attempting to coerce Palestinians to surrender their rights (apartheid), and this policy will continue, no matter who they place there," he said.

Greenblatt is also well known for his presence on Twitter, where he often argues pro-Israel talking points and attacks those critical of Trump or Israel.

On Thursday, Netanyahu thanked Greenblatt, praising him for "his work for peace and security and for speaking the truth about Israel in front of all those who bash it", Israel's Channel 13 reported.