U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman joined President Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, in his meeting with senior Palestinian officials in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a White House official told Jewish Insider.
[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]
Friedman was introduced to the Palestinian negotiating team by Greenblatt and U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem Donald Blome, who has the responsibility for dealing with the Palestinian Authority, according to the official. “They had an open, cordial, and frank discussion on many topics related to peace negotiations,” the official said.
Last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly rejected the U.S. request to include Friedman in meeting with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Greenblatt in Ramallah.
Friedman’s participation in Greenblatt’s meeting with the Palestinians was first reported by Haaretz.
The fact that Friedman was part of the meeting is highly unusual, but not unprecedented, former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told Jewish Insider. Indyk met several times with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat but only in Gaza — in his first term (1995-1997) the U.S. Embassy had responsibility for Gaza — or to broker a ceasefire deal during the second intifada.
Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, however, never attended official meetings with Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah despite being a member of Indyk’s team when he served as Mideast envoy under Secretary of State John Kerry.
According to the WH official, the President insisted that Friedman should be part of the team to broker peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. “The Administration believes that in order to give everyone the best chance to reach an ultimate deal, it is critical to have negotiators that are close with the President and that is why the team includes Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman,” the official said.
“I believe Trump is serious about getting the ‘ultimate deal,’ but this incident probably says more about his lack of familiarity with the existing diplomatic protocols,” Indyk said. “Nevertheless, If Greenblatt wants Friedman on his team, he should have him. It’s good for the Palestinians to hear Friedman’s perspective which is informed by his knowledge of the Israeli side. But then by the same token Greenblatt should have the Consul General Doug Blome on his team and in meetings with Israeli negotiators. That way the Israelis could gain the benefit of his knowledge of the Palestinian side.”
Trump’s unusual move indicates he is serious about reaching a peace deal because he wants what he considers his best people working on it in all the meetings, a former U.S official, who was involved in previous peace talks and requested to remain anonymous, told Jewish Insider. “The Administration probably thinks it helps by giving the Palestinians another channel to and from Trump.”