Jason Greenblatt

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You are Jason Greenblatt, American Special Representative for International Negotiations.


Quotes

"The two sides (Israelis and Palestinians) are going to have to decide how to deal with that region, but it's certainly not Mr. Trump's view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it's an obstacle for peace - because it is not the obstacle for peace.”

“(President Trump) thinks that Israel is in a very tough situation and needs to defend itself as it needs to defend itself.”

“It’s not that the two-state solution has been rejected, but to try to impose a two-state solution on the parties doesn’t make sense to (President Trump), nor does it make sense to the parties. Let’s let the parties involved figure out what they want, and we’ll be there to help them get there.”

“If you take out the emotional part of it and the historical part of it, it is a business transaction. Land is going to be negotiated, water rights are going to be negotiated, security issues are going to be negotiated.”


Early Life & Background

You were born in New York City in 1967, and you grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Queens. You went to Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, and then to Yeshiva College. You earned a law degree from New York University and worked in real estate law for a few years until you were hired by Donald Trump in the mid 1990’s to serve as Chief Legal Officer for the Trump Organization. In this capacity, you represented Mr. Trump and various family members in legal matters pertaining to their real estate holdings, serving in the role for nearly 20 years.

Joining the Trump Administration

When Donald Trump ran for the 2016 Republican nomination for President, you were reportedly surprised when he began referring to you as co-chairman of his Israel Advisory Committee (along with David Friedman, whom Trump would nominate as his ambassador to Israel). You did bring some personal experience to the job, having lived in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut while you attended the Har Etzion Yeshiva (yeshivas are institutions in which study is focused on traditional Jewish texts) in the mid-1980’s. However, you have no formal academic training in International Relations, and no diplomatic experience, and many looked upon your appointment as a questionable move, especially since you would be reporting to President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was also derided by many for his lack of diplomatic experience. However, you enthusiastically embraced the challenge of serving in this key advisory role, and when Mr. Trump won the presidential election, you were appointed as the President’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, with a focus on the Middle East. In contrast with Mr. Friedman, you were able to assume your duties immediately, as your appointment did not require congressional confirmation, and you took your first official trip to the Middle East in March 2017.

This March trip was rich with symbolism and surprise. It had been expected that your stance regarding Israel/Palestine would align with that of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters in the American Jewish community (many of whom also supported Donald Trump). You have lived on a West Bank settlement, after all, and you’ve been an active supporter of Israel. However, you stand at least somewhat in opposition to Ambassador Friedman, an avid supporter of the Israeli settlement project who has been a virulent critic of the left-wing American Jewish lobbying organization, J-Street, comparing its members to Nazi collaborators. You also surprised many by not only visiting a Palestinian refugee camp, but by meeting with leaders from Gaza (where opposition to the Netanyahu government runs particularly strong), and by attending an Arab League summit, in addition to holding several meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It should also be added that on a later visit to the region (you made six such visits during the first half of 2017), you met with Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu’s former chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians, who broke ranks with the Prime Minister and ultimately ran against him in 2015. Livni is a strong advocate for a negotiated settlement, and it was suggested that in taking these meetings you might be unduly swayed by Livni’s more dovish stance.

The Trump Administration on Israel/Palestine

President Trump has tended to echo the views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, generally voicing support for continued settlement expansion (though at one point suggesting that “the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful” in moving towards the goal of a negotiated settlement). Trump has also been harshly critical of the recent UN Security Council resolution 2234, which denounces the settlements as illegal and calls for a two-state solution along the 1967 Green Line. Even before this resolution passed, Trump had criticized the UN for its “weakness and incompetence” concerning Israel, and has insisted on bilateral talks between the two sides as opposed to an externally imposed framework for peace.

It must be added that, as the author of “The Art of the Deal,” it would appear that President Trump views the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate as the ultimate test of his deal-making acumen, and he’s noted that for any deal to succeed, both sides must sacrifice valued assets. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas sent President Trump his congratulations after his election victory, and Abbas’ advisor for strategic affairs, Husam Zomlot, welcomed the appointment of Jared Kushner as a sort of all-purpose Peace Envoy, stating that the elevation of such a trusted advisor reflects the President’s commitment to the issue.

In its early months, the Trump Administration seemed to back off Trump’s controversial assertion on the campaign trail that his administration would move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move was regarded as poking hard at Palestinian sensitivity about Jerusalem, and the portions of Jerusalem that were seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, much of which is now liberally dotted with settlements. It was seen as a blatant appeal to the more conservative pro-Israeli American voters, but once in office the administration seems to have seen the wisdom of avoiding such a provocation, and the topic quietly receded into the background. Finally, though the administration has given off mixed signals, the President has seemed to suggest that, as in one of your quotes above, the Americans will follow the lead of the parties rather than pushing them to the negotiating table. It seems fairly certain that, absent some external pressure, the Israelis and Palestinians are unlikely to break any new diplomatic ground.

Your Beliefs

In terms of your stated beliefs, you favor a two-state solution, reached by the parties concerned and not imposed from outside by a body such as the United Nations, and you have stated that "West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace." You have also suggested that the US might leverage the payments it makes to support the Palestinian Authority (PA) in order to bring about changes in Palestinian policy, sharing a concern that the PA be made to stop payments to the families of Palestinians jailed by the Israelis. In the eyes of the Israelis, of course, these prisoners are criminals who have committed acts that endanger Israelis, or organized actions that threaten the country. For the Palestinians, such people are part of the resistance to the illegal Israeli occupation, the deceased are mostly considered to be martyrs who died in a noble cause, and the Palestinian Authority is adamant that it has an obligation to provide for the prisoners and their families. In any event, such payments have been made for decades, and there are some who suggest that the demands by Prime Minister Netanyahu that such payments be stopped before negotiations can be held reflects an effort on his part to find ways to resist moving forward with serious peace negotiations. People will be watching to see how willing you and the Administration will be about supporting this Israeli demand.

In the end, many of the characteristics you bring to the job can easily be seen as holding contrasting meanings. Will the fact of your long personal and professional relationship with President Trump mean that you are his rubber stamp, or will that closeness to the President mean that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be able to manipulate you because you have no agenda other than that of the administration? Will your lack of diplomatic experience result in your being in over your head, or will it bring with it a fresh outlook that could lead to real progress? Finally, the President has talked a great deal about his belief that his administration can shock the world and help reach the Palestinian-Israeli peace accord that has eluded all who came before him. Several of the Gulf nations—most notably the Saudis—seem to be taking a much more practical stance in relation to Israel, and there are many signs that growing economic, and even strategic cooperation between Israeli and some Arab countries is in the offing. Perhaps this means that true progress can finally be made. Others wonder, though, if the President is guilty of recklessly raising hopes (yet again), hopes that when dashed will result in more despair and more upheaval in the region (especially given the fact that the catastrophic civil war in Syria and the battle against ISIS would seem to be much higher priorities for the administration and for the world)?

You have been whisked out of the world of real estate law and thrust into the middle of all of this. You will need every bit of your curiosity, diligence and creativity to facilitate true progress in settling this enduring and bitter conflict.

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