May 24, 2019

Jason Greenblatt on Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for Peace

Jason Greenblatt and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach discuss the long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan from the U.S. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

What does the United States’ much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan say and when will it be released? 

While he was tight-lipped about what it entails, Jason Greenblatt, one of the chief architects of the plan, adviser to President Donald Trump and special representative for international negotiations, told attendees at an event at Beth Jacob Congregation on April 8 that there were two possibilities regarding the plan’s release date. “Either between now and mid-June or post mid-June,” he said. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who interviewed Greenblatt at the event, responded, “Wow. Has that been said before?” 

“Think about it,” Greenblatt replied. “I didn’t really say anything.”

Greenblatt made his remarks at a public forum with Boteach. Several hundred people turned out for the event introduced by Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa.

Not much has been said about the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan that the president has called “the deal of the century,” one which Greenblatt has worked on for the past two years with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. 

“Neither [the Israelis nor the Palestinians] will like everything in the vision,” Greenblatt said, “but we are confident both sides will understand why we came to the conclusions we did if they are willing to engage. 

“When we release the vision, we ask each person to read the vision in its entirety and then judge it for themselves. We hope for honest, realistic, soul-searching dialogue among those affected by the conflict. We hope everyone … will ask themselves the question, ‘Will our lives be better off with this vision and are the compromises to get this done worth it?’ ”

Having worked for more than 20 years as Trump’s real estate lawyer, Greenblatt may seem an unlikely choice to work on the plan. Following his 2016 election, Trump appointed Greenblatt as one of his top advisers on Israel, tasking him with developing a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Making his first public appearance in Los Angeles since his appointment,  Greenblatt said he has taken a realistic approach “on the elusive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and on the relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Our approach has been to drop the tired talking points of the past that have never and will never achieve peace.” 

Stating that “the time has come to speak the hard truths because peace can only be built on truth,” Greenblatt added, “That is why President Trump and the Trump administration believe that we need to speak clearly about the issues even if it makes some people uncomfortable.”

“Neither [the Israelis nor the Palestinians] will like everything in the vision, but we are confident both sides will understand why we came to the conclusions we did if they are willing to engage.” — Jason Greenblatt

Greenblatt said Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv; the president’s denouncement of attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip; the United States’ withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal; and the recent designation by the U.S. of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization have exemplified Trump’s willingness to act on hard truths. 

Trump’s actions, however, do not mean that his administration does not care about the Palestinians, Greenblatt said.

“I know the cynics — and there are so many of them — like to say the administration doesn’t care about the Palestinian people, or that we are biased against the Palestinians. That is simply not true,” he said. “We care about all Palestinians — those in the West Bank, those in Gaza and those languishing in refugee camps who have been used as pawns for decades in a political game and should have started their lives years ago.” 

Greenblatt also stressed the importance of no outside party imposing peace on the Israelis and the Palestinians, the need for direct talks between the two sides and the importance of the U.S. serving as an honest broker. 

“No matter what the Palestinian leadership says, only a plan put forth by the U.S. has a chance of succeeding,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has cut off ties with the U.S. following the relocation of its embassy in Israel. 

“[Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas should recognize he is missing an opportunity and we can’t help him or his people if he doesn’t help himself,” Greenblatt said. “No one is demanding that President Abbas sign a deal that is not good for his people, but we are asking President Abbas not to prejudge a plan and not to use the Trump administration’s policy positions as a convenient excuse not to strive for peace.”

Boteach also brought up the geopolitics of the Middle East and how they have changed under the Trump administration. While former President Barack Obama attempted to negotiate a deal with Iran, Trump has condemned Iran and worked more closely with Saudi Arabia, which, like Israel, is concerned about Iranian hegemony in the region, Boteach said.

“Everybody seems to see Iran as the great threat,” he noted. “Is there a danger in building the prospects for peace on ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend?’ ”

Greenblatt said there was more to the warming of ties between the Gulf States and Israel than seeing eye to eye on Iran. The Arab states, like Israel, appreciate assertive U.S. leadership in the Middle East, he said. 

Greenblatt also came to Trump’s defense over accusations that the president foments anti-Semitism. As an Orthodox Jew and the son of Hungarian Jewish refugees, Greenblatt said Trump respects the Jewish people, noting how the president has always respected Greenblatt’s religious practice and Shabbat observance. 

He added, “Forget the fact he is not an anti-Semite. Most people believe he is not an anti-Semite, but anyone who tries to accuse him of causing anti-Semitism is missing the boat. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, it is true — it’s certainly on the rise in Europe — but it’s not because of President Trump. We need friends like President Trump to help us get through that fight. And if we alienate our friends, I fear for my kids, I fear for your kids, I fear for all of our kids and our grandkids.”

The more than hourlong discussion concluded with a Q&A session with the audience, during which Greenblatt said his plan was aspirational.

“We’re putting forth a vision,” he said, “not a peace treaty.”