Jason D. Greenblatt, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, at the UN Security Council, New York City, July 23, 2019


By Dr. Cynthia Day Wallace, Senior Fellow, thinc.

I must begin by cautioning that the author of this article, Col. Res. Shaul Arieli, gives some quotes out of context, that other of his quotes are incomplete, and that still others are outright misquotes, and that I am therefore not likely to be persuaded or swayed by his message, whatever it purports. Having made this challenge, I feel obliged to substantiate it below, ‘for the record’, as it is hard to read such a piece and just stand silent.

Allow me to begin, right off the top, with one flagrant example of a misquote: author Arieli writes: “As it says in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the state was founded ‘on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly.’” The official translation of the Proclamation (the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel) reads: “BY VIRTUE OF OUR NATURAL AND HISTORIC RIGHT AND ON THE STRENGTH OF THE RESOLUTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY” [emphasis added; caps in original]. One does wonder how a UN resolution (Resolution 181) that was rejected by the Arabs and never implemented could end up being given any credit at all in an Israeli founding document. Still, not only does the Declaration not cite the UN uniquely as the “basis” for the founding of Israel, as Arieli asserts, it does not even cite it as the “basis” of the founding of Israel whatsoever. It reads only “on the strength of the UN resolution.”  There is a difference, even if both are arguably misplaced.

I must admit that I myself have always been dismayed at that surprising reference in Israel’s Charter document, given the floodtide of opposition to Israel displayed regularly by virtually every body and organ of the UN, including its International Court. If those early credits were meant to curry favor with the United Nations and thereby the international community it was meant to represent, I’m afraid it failed. The United Nations was arguably initially a promising body, still in its infancy at the time of the drafting of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1947. The credit thus accorded to it was perhaps seen as adding gravitas or the weight of international recognition to the fledgling state.

This interpretation would indeed seem to be supported by the further words in the Declaration: “WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.” Israel earnestly sought the international support represented by the United Nations. This would also seem to draw support from the pre-eminent authority on the dynamics of international foreign policy ( World Politics: The Menu for Choice, Russett/Starr/Kinsella): “Each new unit seeks the legitimisation of UN membership as its union card into the community of nations.”

It was “recognition” by the UN that the drafters adamantly declared to be “irrevocable”, despite the abandonment of Resolution 181 itself. Moreover, the Israeli proclamation ends with the words: “PLACING OUR TRUST IN THE ‘ROCK OF ISRAEL’”, not “PLACING OUR TRUST IN THE ‘UNITED NATIONS.’”

So the very foundational document of the State of Israel is both misquoted and misrepresented in this article by a so-called “Israeli expert on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.” This is but one example. By the time I had finished reading the article, I was so perplexed that I looked up “about the author”. The fact that his parents immigrated to Israel from Iran helped assuage my perplexity while not altogether expunging it.

It’s not surprising that the author should write such a biased critique; he openly acknowledges his disdain for President Trump, as well, it seems, as for Prime Minister Netanyahu for choosing to “ally himself with” Trump. And as far as  his ‘denouncing’ Greenblatt for “perfectly reflect[ing President Trump’s] outlook”, that is normally what would be expected of a Head of State’s special envoy to the Security Council of the United Nations.

With regard to Greenblatt’s pronouncement on the role of international law in resolving the unique Israeli-Palestinian problem, Arieli gives only a partial quote, thereby misrepresenting what was actually said. Greenblatt stated that “international consensus” (which is what goes on at the UN) has failed, but then distinguished international law by saying “International consensus is not international law [emphasis added].” Again, the author cherry picks Greenblatt’s words to make his own case, which is not Greenblatt’s message at all – again, a blatant misrepresentation.

Greenblatt simply (and correctly) states that international law is interpreted in very different ways and that “[w]e will not get to the bottom of whose interpretation of ‘international law’ is correct on this conflict.” Right again. But while recognizing a certain futility in the irresolvable conflicting interpretations, and the fact that, according to Greenblatt,  “[a] comprehensive and lasting peace will not be created by fiat of international law or by these heavily wordsmithed, unclear resolutions,” he is not categorically dispensing with any role whatsoever for international law, as Arieli appears to claim.

Greenblatt actually states: “This conflict will not be resolved by constantly referencing the hundreds of [“heavily negotiated, purposely ambiguously worded”] UN resolutions on the issue.” (I can only agree with Greenblatt here. Even Arieli seems to get this one right.) 

Allow me to point out another example of an incomplete quote by the author of this critique, who quotes Greenblatt as saying: “This conflict is also not going to be resolved by reference to ‘international law,’” while the author cuts off the rest of Greenblatt’s thought which continues: “when such law is inconclusive” [emphasis added] – in other words: under certain conditions. The author uses Greenblatt’s words to make his own point, which is in fact not the point of the speaker whom he feigns to be quoting. This is again a complete misrepresentation, even as the sentence in its entirety confirms.

Arieli further accuses Greenblatt of confusing UN Resolution 242 (on Israel withdrawing to the “1967 borders”) with Resolution 194 (which devotes one paragraph out of 15 (para. 11) to the notion of a “right of return” and possible compensation for refugees). I fear the author is rather the “ignorant” one if he is unaware that the words “just settlement” in Resolution 242, with reference to the refugee problem, have been construed by Arab countries, as well as others, to embrace (or substitute for) the concept of the “right of return” in Resolution 194. This is what Greenblatt refers to when he says: “those who construe [emphasis added] Resolution 242 to call for the so-called ‘right of return’ and compensation for displaced Palestinians.” He is not displaying ignorance or confusing Resolutions 242 and 194, as accused. The “ignorance” here would seem to be clearly on the part of author Arieli.

The writer of the critique also errs in stating that Greenblatt is “critical of those who say the territory is occupied – the definition also accepted by Israel’s Supreme Court.” The openly biased writer seems to be blind to the obvious difference between legal occupation (acceptable under international law under certain conditions such as those currently extant in Israel, if a nation can even be categorized as “occupying” itself) and illegal occupation (of which Israel is not guilty). Greenblatt is in fact rightly critical of the fact that “[m]any routinely call legal occupation ‘illegal occupation’.” Arieli completely ignores this distinction, the entire essence of the speaker’s point here. The author’s predisposition is so extreme that he calls out Greenblatt for something the speaker clearly does not say, even while directly quoting him as having said something quite significantly different – both humanly and legally speaking.

There are other points made by this undisguisedly partial writer that equally distort and/or conveniently abort statements from Greenblatt’s narrative. Some are hardly more than conjectures extrapolated from the author’s own mindset, not even uttered by Greenblatt in the speech he is critiquing.

For example, the article further reads: “Greenblatt asks us not to forget Israel’s generosity,” going on to quote Greenblatt directly: “Let us not lose sight of the fact that Israel has already conceded at least 88 percent of the territory captured by Israel in the defensive war it had no choice but to fight in 1967.” The author of the critique follows this quote by inappropriately displaying his own predisposition: “Is this request designed to obtain approval for annexing the remaining 12 percent, following the Trump administration’s recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights?”

This baseless conjecture is purely speculative and is predicated on rank ignorance. The Trump administration did not recognize the “annexation” of the Golan Heights, as there has never been a formal annexation of the Golan Heights. The President’s declaration recognized the “sovereignty” of Israel over the Golan Heights on the basis of historical and cultural ties to the region and the international law norm of the right to self-defense, given the fact of over 50 years of incessant attacks on Israel by neighboring Syria.

The Israeli Government intentionally, with wisdom and aforethought, did not claim “annexation” of the Golan Heights. It explicitly extended Israeli law to the region as an extension of its powers of occupation for legitimate purposes of self-defense and the maintenance of law and order and public safety within the occupied territory. The Israeli Parliament (Knesset) adopted the Golan Heights Law in 1981 by a wide majority, in full recognition that this was not – nor was it intended to be – an “annexation,” but was justified by “Syria’s implacable hostility to Israel, and the recent deployment of Syrian missiles on Lebanese soil – a provocation of crisis proportions.” (For more commentary on this, see my blog on this website, entitled “Lord Denning, Donald Trump and the Golan Heightseights” of August 16, 2019.)   

Author Arieli would be well advised to read the Golan Heights Law. He will not find a single reference to “annexation.” Nor will he find one reference to annexation in President Trump’s declaration, nor, for that matter, in envoy Greenblatt’s speech that he is criticizing.

Neither will the reader find any reference in the UN Charter to what Arieli pronounces as a statement in its Article 2 that “the obtaining of territory by conquest is unlawful, including in a defensive war [bold in original].” In actual fact, Article 2.4 simply and rightly interdicts the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” In the case of Israel and the Golan, the use of force was initiated by Syria against Israel, not by Israel against Syria.

Moreover, Article 2 says nothing whatsoever about a “defensive war” – words that the writer even treacherously emboldens to persuade the reader of their authenticity and to make a point that is not in fact there! This is nothing short of willful deception in the guise of ‘expertise’. Indeed, the Charter’s one reference to self-defense is found in its Article 51, as follows: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”. An unprovoked armed attack occurred against a Member of the United Nations – namely, in this case, by Syria against Israel.

The international law norm, according to the UN Charter (Article 2.4) is a prohibition of unlawful use of force, thus leaving open the potentiality of lawful use of force – e.g. where self-defense is concerned. Where this norm is currently purported to have changed to a categorical prohibition of military occupation (or ultimate annexation) under any circumstances, this is solely drawn from a series of anti-Israel UN resolutions, which are not valid sources or instruments of international law, as they are widely misperceived to be. Arieli is propagating this deception and has clearly overstepped his bounds again here. (See also my forthcoming article on the subject of “annexation” as regards Israel’s rightful claims to her international legal rights to the territory unanimously granted by the international community as represented by the League of Nations in 1922 in the Mandate for Palestine, an international legal instrument that has never been modified or abrogated. The article argues, inter alia, that no legitimate nation state (as Israel is) has a need to annex its own territory.)

Author Arieli goes on to criticize Greenblatt for “urging” that “the only way ahead is direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” The critic then adds: “Negotiations from scratch.” Where did he get that? Not from Greenblatt’s speech. Nor does the speech evidence the critique writer’s presumptuous and unfounded assertion that: “The way he [Greenblatt] sees it, there is no history, there are no understandings, no Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama.” I do not find that expressed anywhere in the speech.

Moreover, in the six references in Greenblatt’s speech to “direct negotiations”, I cannot discover a single remark by which he denigrates past efforts at resolving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see a candid acknowledgment that past efforts have not worked, up to now, and that we must retire ineffective and worn-out rhetoric and UN resolutions that have attempted only to bypass direct negotiations. I see an aspiration to something with a potential to accomplish what has not been achieved to date. Greenblatt is looking forward and not backward, proposing that “the only way ahead [emphasis added] is direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

It is particularly noteworthy that author Arieli faults Greenblatt for “crudely” ignoring in his speech the (all but still-born) “Annapolis Process” (a 2007 U.S. initiative meant to revive the 2002 U.S.-instigated Road Map for Peace, favoring an independent Palestinian state living in peace within Israeli borders); yet the author himself does not even mention the far better known Oslo Accords. At the same time, curiously, he asserts that UN resolutions, “especially Resolution 242”, furnish “the only possible basis for negotiations”, seeming to ignore the fact that Resolution 242 served as the basis for the Oslo Accords, which emphasize that bilateral negotiations are the only viable path to Palestinian statehood!

Greenblatt quite rightly suggests in his speech that “only direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians can resolve the issue of Jerusalem, if it can be resolved. It will not be resolved in this chamber, in this institution, or in any other capital around the world.” He goes on to say that “if there is to be such a solution, only the parties themselves, through direct negotiations, can work this out. … The dispute over the territory is a question that can only be resolved in the context of direct negotiations between the parties.” The Preamble to the Oslo II Accord (“Interim Agreement”) makes it clear (for better or for worse) that bilateral negotiations between the two parties are meant to “lead to [emphasis added] the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338,” not the other way around.

Last but perhaps most astonishing, Arieli really outdoes himself by quoting an excerpt from a July 10th speech by Netanyahu, as follows: “In any peace plan, not a single settlement or a single settler will be uprooted. The army and the security forces will continue to control all the territory up to the Jordan River, and Israel’s capital Jerusalem will remain united.” He then interprets this for the reader as being a position “based on force alone” [emphasis added]! Dear reader, did I read this correctly? Please re-read. On this, I leave you to be your own judge.

To wrap up, may I say that I find Greenblatt to in fact be refreshingly and boldly realistic – even courageous against political correctness – especially given the audience to which he is addressing his remarks – the Security Council of the United Nations “international community” – friend and (mostly) foe (at least on these issues). He speaks truth in the midst of the (largely “enemy”) camp. 

Greenblatt ends with: “Let’s build real foundations of peace and work to truly transform lives by speaking the truth – directly to one another, across the table.” Now here is a “politician” – more appropriately, diplomat – who practices what he preaches. My maxim is: Truth in; truth out; lies in, lies out. In other words, if untruths (or half truths) go into the mix, lies (or half truths, which are in fact lies) come out in the result.

As a seeker and hopefully purveyor of truth, I have a rather low tolerance level for this brand of authorship with such openly biased and deceptive (as bias generally is) critique. In contrast, I find the U.S. envoy’s remarks to be balanced, thoughtful and (daringly) candid. At least envoy Greenblatt is straightforward and not deceptive in unabashedly presenting the U.S. Administration’s position, whether or not one agrees with each and every precept. Borrowing from the title of the Ha’aretz article, “The Ignorance [and calculated deception ofauthor Shaul Arieli Trump envoy Greenblatt] is just the tip of the iceberg.”


Dr Cynthia Day Wallace, Ph.D. Cambridge, specializes in international economic law (esp. foreign direct investment). Former posts include Senior Adviser to the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva; Senior Fellow and Project Director of the International Business and Economics Program, CSIS, Washington D.C.; and Deputy Executive Director of the Investment Negotiation Program, of the International Law Institute, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Authoring over 30 publications, including 10 books and monographs, she received the Grotius International Law Award for an article selected jointly by the U.N. Association and the T.M.C. Asser Institute, The Hague. She is an editor and contributing author to the Max-Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law and the author of Foundations of the International Legal Rights of the Jewish People and the State of Israel, currently in the process of revision and update.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment